Communicating Change: Banquet or Bites?

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One part of my work with leaders is centered around how they lead people through change.

Often, I see leaders giving their attention to planning a change initiative, with minimal consideration as to how and when they will communicate the change to those charged with implementing it.

Some leaders spend a considerable amount of time consulting with a working-party, envisioning the change they would like, constructing how it will be, then developing systems and processes to support the change. Lastly, they will tell their staff (or pseudo-facilitate staff to come to their idea) about the new way of doing things. They will sell the WHY with enthusiastic evangelism, trying to get staff ‘buy-in’. Staff who don’t buy-in are often labelled as ‘resistant’ or ‘past-it’.

Leaders need to understand that for staff who have been busy beavering-away at the coalface, this information can come as a bit of a shock. Questions such as “When will we get the time to do this?”, “Where does that fit into…?”, “Haven’t we done this before?” or “What’s the point?” often spring forth.

You see, whilst the leaders have done all the thinking behind the scenes, they haven’t made this visible to staff; let-alone engage them in the change-thinking process. The leaders (or working-party) involved know what they want and how they wish to get there, but for staff it can seemingly come from left-field.

Sure, whilst excessive consultation can lead to change-constipation; a lack of visibility and consultation can also lead to conflict.

Making your thinking and the stage at which it is ‘at’ visible to the wider staff is important.

So instead of the 'Banquet' approach, consider sharing "Bites" of information... little and often.

How do you create a sense of 'belonging' in your workplace?

It’s Mental Health Awareness week in New Zealand.

Wellbeing and Mental Distress in Aotearoa New Zealand:Snapshot 2016, published in 2018 found the following:

The enormity of these findings can seem overwhelming, but there are things that we, as leaders, can do to support wellbeing within our organisations.

In his book “Lost Connections” Johann Hari states there are eight reconnections we need to make in order to stem the flow of depression and anxiety. We need to: reconnect to other people, reconnect socially, reconnect to meaningful work, reconnect to meaningful values, reconnect to sympathetic joy, and overcoming addiction to the self, reconnect to acknowledging and overcoming childhood trauma and reconnect to restoring the future.

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For the purpose of this article, I would like to focus on how we might create a sense of ‘belonging’ within the workplace. Finding number three in the NZ research clearly states that when people feel isolated they are more likely to have symptoms of depression, anxiety and other forms of mental distress.

Psychiatrist William Glasser also speaks of our Five Basic Needs, one of them being ‘Love and Belonging"‘.

For many people in the workplace, there is a sense of disconnect; that they are just a cog in the wheel of work, with no sense of connect to the greater meaning or vision, or connect to those they work alongside. I see this in my work, and have experienced it myself. It’s like an outer-body experience where you are part of a work community, yet feel like you are an island, alone, battling-on with no sense of contribution or worth towards creating the overall picture.

So how might leaders support people to feel connected and to belong?

Infuse work with a greater sense of meaning: Support people to see the greater picture of their work. How does it fit into and support other elements of the overall vision. How is their contribution helping and in what way?

Acknowledgement: Take the time to tell people you appreciate their contribution. Let them know how valuable it is. Sometimes it may be those people who are forever ‘blowing their own trumpet’ that are in fact calling-out to be acknowledged.

Social reconnection: Whilst it is not an employers role to help people become socially connected, there are things that can be done internally to support people to feel connected. Ensuring there are social events that include rather than exclude people. Having social events that include high costs and alcohol every time can exclude many people. When organising social events therefore, ensure they cater for different groups of people i.e. people with young children, different financial states, those who may not enjoy doing physical things or those who don’t drink to name a few.
Furthermore, support people to work-alongside each other on projects, encourage connections to be made; particularly for those people who may tend to work in isolation.

The statistics and state of mental wellbeing not only in New Zealand, but around the world are not good reading. But rather than thinking it’s too big to make a difference, as leaders you can do your part to help people feel more connected.

If we all do a little, it can impact the whole.

Have you become the device that is always on?

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Do you struggle to turn-off?

Have you found that work has become your life?

Maybe you don’t see your friends or family as often as you used to?

Perhaps you are in overwhelm mode, just surviving?

In the greedy nature of our work, we wear multiple hats, do more and are always ‘on’. But just because that is how it is, does it mean it should be that way?

Research conducted by Erin Reid and Lakshmi Ramarajan found that “people typically rely on one of three strategies when confronted by a high intensity workplace: accepting and conforming to the demands of a high-pressure workplace; passing as ideal workers by quietly finding ways around the norm; or revealing their other commitments and their unwillingness to abandon them”.

Within their study, 43% of the people interviewed fell into the ‘accepting’ category. In their quest to succeed on the job, “accepters” prioritize their work identities and sacrifice or significantly suppress other meaningful aspects of who they are. In many work cultures however, this is deemed as the “ideal employee”.

Such employee’s struggle with those that don’t operate in the same way as them. With a tendency to get totally absorbed in their work, they don’t tend to make very good mentors, as they can’t see how difficult it can be for others; particularly newcomers. One research candidate stated; “They can no longer understand how unbelievably stressful it is to come in not knowing how to play the game. They not only cause themselves stress, but they create stress ripples around themselves.

The study also found that 27% of participants fell into the “passing” category. Whilst looking like the ‘ideal employee’, and in fact gaining the same rating as the ‘accepting’ employee, these people will organise their work so it serves their needs as well. One candidate focused on local industries, which permitted them to develop rosters of clients they could serve with minimal travel time, thus opening up space for other parts of their lives.

Lastly, the study found 30% of those interviewed pursued the “revealing” strategy. This means they coped by “openly sharing other parts of their lives and by asking for changes to the structure of their work, such as reduced schedules and other formal accommodations”. They were however, not so favourably perceived by management with their commitment often challenged. one participant’s commitment was challenged when he requested paternity leave to put his family first over his job.

So what might this mean for you?

Which category do you align with?

As leaders, it begins with what we role-model. We set the tone for the whole organisation or team.

Do you need to develop a multi-faced identity? Maybe you need to invest time in exploring and developing other parts of your being. It may just start with going to a market with a friend instead of beavering-away on work that will always be there.

Maybe as a leader you need to reward balance, rather than outputs. Perhaps it may mean giving (timed) time to hearing about people’s weekends in a team meeting (I once worked for a very progressive organisation who did this and it built such tight bonds within the team). You may also look at providing incentives such as a get-away weekend as a reward.

Lastly we may need to protect employee’s personal lives. We need to understand and work with their values. If family is a high value for them, then we need to support them as best we can to spend time with their family. It is not about squeezing the last possible ‘bit’ out of them; it is about actively modelling and supporting them to have-a-life outside of work.

What type of culture are you modelling through your leadership?

How are you being explicit about what is important for people’s wellbeing?

Embrace the “Danger Zone”!


I admit it… I have a brain-crush on Liz Wiseman!

Researcher, speaker, executive advisor and author of The New York Times bestseller Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, and The Wall Street Journal bestseller Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, Liz knows her stuff about leading, learning and innovation!

What is even more crush-evoking is that Liz communicates her ‘stuff’ in a way that challenges group-think, questions assumptions and serves-up a generous helping of contextually-based research to support her ideas.

Within her latest book Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, Liz speaks of the phrase ‘Failing-fast’ (and other such phrases) that are bandied-about in business and education. Liz states we are inviting the wrong level of expertise around the table when it comes to innovation.

When you ask experienced people to innovate in their area of expertise, they are more likely to play it safe. When you invite people to work in their rookie zone (where they have far more questions than answers) you’ll accelerate the all important build-measure-learn cycle. 

When seeking innovation therefore, we need to ensure that people are operating on the outer fringe of their capabilities. In this way they will naturally make mistakes, obtain feedback and seek answers without the pressure of ‘expertise’.

Furthermore, as a leader, it can be easy to keep yourself in a safe space. One where we don't challenge ourselves to be more innovative with our thoughts or creativity. Certainly we encourage it in the people and students we lead; they’re in the rookie zone, they have unspoken permission to fail and see how to make their mistakes into success. 

But do we challenge and encourage ourselves to be as innovative as the leaders we are growing in our classrooms, schools and businesses? 

Maybe you chose to be in this safe zone, or you just fell into it. 

Is it time to step back into your own rookie zone? To shift your thinking back to being a learner of building something, measuring it and learning? 

As we make mistakes, and deal with them using our Emotional Intelligence, we give others permission to do the same. Imagine what a classroom would look like with both teacher and students were both challenging the danger zones together, or a business where people were learning together.

Maybe you need to be a little like Danger Mouse, and step into your danger zone … then come out safely. 

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Your danger zone is that zone that challenges you and makes you grow in both creativity and thought. How do we get into that danger zone - that zone of innovation? Be a constant learner, a questioner, someone who sees opportunities to activate failure and then re-calibrates to make those failures into a success.

In this danger zone you will be truly operating in a space of authentic innovation and leadership.

So as you go forward this week consider

  • What zone are you operating in?

  • How are you encouraging others to embrace their ‘danger zone’?

  • How are you creating opportunities for people to innovate in the ‘danger zone’?

Creating a “Culture of Care” in your workplace.


In April 2016 Lawyer Mai Chen stated that "Mental health in the workplace is the new frontier for health and safety".

Whilst some organisations have actively sought to address this, others have 'dipped their toes', whilst some have completely ignored it.

The Health and Safety Act that came into effect in 2016 clearly states mental-health
as an issue in an increasingly stressed-out and competitive workplaces of deadlines and performance targets.

In the year 2015-2016, WorkSafe conducted over 780 investigations, 14,500 proactive assessments of workplaces, 106 prosecutions (91% of which were successful) and 3,300 serious harm notifications. 

All New Zealand employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment. It can no longer be ignored, nor can we settle for half-hearted, tick-the-box approaches. 

As well as this, within my work alongside organisations and their leaders, I have a growing concern that some well-being initiatives are causing more stress and mental-health issues than good for some employees.

Some organisations have introduced mindfulness or meditation classes. Whilst the practice of mindful and meditative presence has proven health benefits, if the underlying issue of workload, workplace bullying or excessive pressures are not addressed, the initiative becomes a drop in a very turbulent ocean.

Others have introduced 'gratitude' times where staff acknowledge supportive or virtues-based actions from others. When placed within a toxic environment as a potential workplace culture cure-all, this practice becomes contrived, and potentially harmful if it ostricises people over others.

Creating a Culture of Care within an organisation requires a strategic rather than haphazard, or 'chasing the newest fad' approach. The key is to develop a comprehensive, informed approach that builds internal capability.

A more strategic approach may involve:
• An audit of current-state. 
• Strategic design of a comprehensive, innovative plan that addresses audit findings.
• Training of identified internal personnel who can lead and support staff development.
• Use of external professionals as required.

The part can never be well unless the whole is well. 


Contact Mary-Anne to find-out more about her "Creating a Culture of Care" programme.

Empathy: It begins with you!

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I would like to begin by telling a story about a young leader.

This woman began in positional leadership early in her career. She was identified by others as showing huge potential, given various roles, and quickly rose to senior leadership positions.

She was however like a duck on water, gliding-along whilst underneath she was paddling madly. If she made the slightest mistake, she would beat-herself-up, chastising herself for days or even weeks afterwards. When asked to reflect on her journey, she found it difficult to see her achievements, instead focusing on what was missing. She settled for nothing less than an A-grade in her studies and would drive herself hard to achieve this. Guilt also played a large factor in how she operated. She felt guilty if she wasn’t working and she felt guilty if she wasn’t spending enough time with her children. She was a highly respected leader. She had incredible people and organisational skills and was also creative in her approaches. Outwardly she seemed like she had it all together, but those she allowed to see behind this, saw someone who’s inner critic was running rampant.

The thing is, she is not alone. There are many incredible leaders of all ages whose inner critics are sabotaging their work and wellbeing. This internal fight however doesn’t have to be. The road to inner-critic recovery begins with self-empathy. If you found yourself connecting with this leader’s story, then I encourage you to explore the following pathways to self-empathy.

According to Roche Martin, the three elements that contribute to empathy are: listening, curiosity and emotional connection. When we apply these to ourselves the inner-critic can be tamed. For those who are trying to tame the inner-critic these three elements can be applied in the following way:

Listening: The key to listening is sometimes NOT to listen; particularly if you are saying unkind things to yourself! A way of checking this is to ask yourself “Would I talk to someone else like this?” “Is it true? What’s the evidence?”  Begin by checking your internal messages and looking for counter-evidence. Attune your listening to the positive messages.

Curiosity: Being able to hold information away from you and look at it with a sense of curiosity is an important skill to learn. To view it from a “That’s interesting!” mindset helps one disassociate from the emotions and reflect from an objective standpoint. It is from this viewpoint one is able to gain a less emotionally-charged perspective.

Emotional Connection: Part of having an emotional connection involves showing compassion; both towards others and ourselves. This means allowing oneself to be ‘real’, to make mistakes and to forgive oneself. It also includes giving and receiving aroha. This may take the form of taking time-out and doing something you enjoy. This doesn’t have to be something large, it may just mean giving yourself ‘permission’ to take time out to go for a short walk during a busy day.

As for that young leader?? The inner critic no longer has a controlling voice in my life ;-)

So as you go forward into this week, spend some time practicing self-empathy. Become aware of your inner voice. Hold it’s messages away from you with a sense of curiosity and compassion.

As you continue to do this, your inner critic will become lessened. You will learn to be gentler on yourself, to find an inner calm, and acknowledge and appreciate the gifts you have to offer.

strive for progress, not perfection.

Go well and go easy on yourself this week :-)

Should you wish to explore this further take a look at my Self Leadership for Empowered Women webinar series

Self Leadership: Maintaining emotional equilibrium


Being a leader requires one to maintain a steady ship, not only within the work environment, but also within oneself. At times, either of these can be challenging. So what happens when we are in stormy seas, and how do we keep afloat? Let's take the analogy of a boat to explore this further.

There are various internal and external influences that can cause a boat to shift from it's natural upright position:

  • Waves
  • Wind
  • Turning forces when the rudder is put over
  • Shifting of weights on board
  • Addition or removal of weights
  • Loss of buoyancy (damage)

These influences exert heeling moments on a boat causing it to list (permanent) or heel (temporary). A stable boat does not capsize when subjected to normal heeling moments due to the boat's tendency to right itself (righting moment). 

This is also true of our own equilibrium. Normally we are able to roll with daily influences. We monitor our internal and external 'instruments' to see that we are on-course and 'sea-worthy'. There are however times when we can get close to heeling or capsizing. This can be caused by extenuating external or internal influences. No matter what these are, there are some key 'instruments' we can call-on to support us to maintain upright.

- Values: Checking-in with your values when you get a sense of internal disruption. Are things occurring that aren't aligning with your values? What do you need to do to voice these and re-set your boundaries?

- Mindset: You can't change others; you can only change how you respond to them. What thinking patterns are you employing that are helping or hindering your equilibrium? How much of your thinking is aligned with problems versus possibilities? What logic do you need to bring explore to counter-balance your emotions?

- Circle of Influence: What do you have direct control over, influence over, or no control or influence over? What are you holding onto that you have no influence over that you need to let-go? What conversations are you not having that you need to have? Also, what conversations are you having that are none of your business?

An immediate thing you can do when you find yourself losing equilibrium is what is called in NeuroLinguistic Programming as a State Change. This means to do something that will interrupt your pattern of thinking or behaviour in order to gain perspective on the issue. This may mean taking a deep breath, going for a walk, or even a bathroom break. You are sending signals to both your brain and body that you are moving away from that state and into another. It's a bit like when we answer the phone sweetly in the middle of a heated argument. So rather than having an external stimulus, we create our own stimulus as a pattern interrupt.

As you go forward this week, have a play with some of these emotional instruments to reset your equilibrium.

We can't stop the storm, but we can manage how much water we take onboard.





Abundant versus Scarcity mindset


As the saying goes... "Sh#t Happens!". No one is special or absolved; it happens to us all. It can vary in amounts and severity, but ultimately it causes a certain amount of discomfort and sometimes pain. 

I don't want to make light of anyone's sh#t; some people have some heavy stuff to get through. But I do want to suggest that no matter how large your 'stuff', there are some mindset gear-shifts that can help one 'step-over-it'.

I want to share a story of a family friend; Aaron Fleming, who in the prime of his life suffered from a serious health complaint where his surgeon told him that he would never again be physically active. An upcoming NZ athlete, Aaron clawed his way back from his diagnosis and post-trauma addiction to painkillers and subsequent depression to achieve the following:

• Blake Leader Award recipient
• Senior leadership positions in both Local and Central Government
• Author of motivational book Purpose
• Multiple international Ironman finisher
• New Zealand’s Olympic Games torchbearer
• Previous finalist for Young New Zealander of the Year
• Established successful start-up community environmental initiatives
• Television presenter
• And a presenter and speaker with over ten years’ experience

Having achieved all that, what you’ll also find hard to believe is Aaron’s age – he’s only in his early 30s.

Yes, there were times when Aaron felt there was nothing he could do or become as a result of his illness. But after reaching rock-bottom, he sought help and began to look differently at his future... and the rest is history! 

We all have times when life gets tough, but as concentration camp survivor Vicktor Frankl said within his book "Man's Search for Meaning";

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom".

We have a choice between a scarcity or an abundant mindset. Do we look for what is missing; for what is not there? Or do we look for the learnings and the opportunities within? It's easy to wallow in self-pity and negativity, but to be honest, it only rots you from the inside whilst slowly tainting those around you. An abundant mindset however attracts possibility and positivity. It propels you out of the Sh#t into your future.

So as you go forward this week consider:

  • When the Sh#t hits the fan... what are the learnings you can glean from it?
  • If the same sh#t keeps coming back to you consider... what is the lesson from these repeated patterns that I am yet to learn?

Scarcity or Abundance; it's your choice.


Communicating the 'WHY' and 'WHAT' of change.

In 1990, Peter Senge wrote "The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization"His writing had far-reaching accord, and still holds true today. One particular aspect of his work was around what he framed as "Systems thinking". Systems thinking is the ability to comprehend and address the whole, and to examine the interrelationship between the parts in order to integrate disciplines. This ability is vital when it comes to communicating the link between the 'Why' and the 'What' of change. 

Comments such as "Oh this is just another thing they are piling on us", or "How does this fit with what we are already doing?" can be heard during a change process when people are uncertain of how the initiative fits with everything else.

This is where Senge's System's Thinking is helpful. One way I have found to show the inter-relatedness of elements within or influencing the change is through the use of models. These can be in the form of venn diagrams, compare and contrast grids, cascading circles, matrixes, triangles or squares.

As an example, the diagram below outlines the core elements to be considered when implementing change. The intersecting labels show what is obtained through the integration of the various elements. Each of the main elements can be broken-down into sub-categories.

Seeing all the elements in a visual form is easier to 'digest'. It also helps people understand the inter-relatedness of different elements; the system, and how they are contributing to it.

As you go forward into this coming week, consider how you are communicating both the ;Why' and 'What?' What are the different elements and how do they inter-relate? Why is the change important to other parts of the system?

Have a great week!


Communicating Change: Connecting the 'WHO?' and 'WHY?'

In last week's blog post I spoke about how vital it is to understand the 'WHO?' when it comes to leading change.

Moving-on a step further this week, I would like to share how you might leverage off this understanding to create a compelling 'WHY?'

One process I use to determine WHY a change initiative might be important for the individuals (rather than taking an "I know what you need approach" is a Human Centered Design Thinking approach. Through the initial process of Empathy Mapping,  people are able to share their current-state around a context eg: timetabling, organisational structure, teaching of reading etc. During this process the Pain-points (what's not going so well) and Gains (what's going well/an opportunity) are identified. For anyone leading any type of change, this information is absolute GOLD! Its a bit like having already identified what people like to eat before they come to dinner so you ensure they can partake.

Human-Centered Design Thinking process

Human-Centered Design Thinking process

Empathy Map

Empathy Map

Having identified the pain-points and areas that are working well, we are able to speak directly to these when engaging people with the WHY. As an example. If the change involves the introduction of a new technology such as the use of Google drive across an organisation, when we ask the question "How are current ways of sharing information digitally working for you?" we gain an understanding of where people are situated in relation to this, as well as their pain-points such as "losing files", 'crossing over files between home and work laptops", etc. This information is gold in that we are then able to communicate how using Google drive will allow them to work from any place, anytime without having to transfer files. It will also save them time, and angst in looking for files when they go 'missing', as they are always there.

Furthermore, pulling-from the information you have acquired around the WHO you will also be able to link with their values and motivators. eg: This will increase your efficiency and give you more time for doing the things that matter.

So as you move into this coming week start to link your knowledge of the WHO with how you approach the WHY. 

Also listen-out for people's pain-points as they speak - they are the key to unlocking their WHY.


Keep smiling :-)