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Change

Do something you haven’t done before!

This didn't even look like a spot to lie in so I assumed she was trying to dig a hole. But no, she just thought it looked cozy! We should all be looking at the same things differently!

I would have never envisioned that Grace would have found this spot attractive because in the past, she’s landed on the mulch, not right on top of the tall grass!  She saw it for what it was — a plush, cozy spot to snuggle in. Grace opened her options by having a different perspective, and doing something that she had never done before. That’s a lesson we should all embrace. 

Have you ever been surprised by something that an employee (or manager) has done in your workplace — and then been thankful for the outcome because it was something you would never have thought of yourself?

This past weekend, Grace was nearby as I spread new mulch in our flower gardens. Because she’s an anxious and nervous dog, she doesn’t stay in any one spot for too long, so it’s not uncommon for her to be moving around a lot.

But I was curious when she starting pawing around in the tall, ornamental grass. The stuff was thick and there was not one logical spot that I could see where she could fit. Was she trying to dig a hole (not something she does casually without being on a hunting-related mission)? Was she trying to find something I couldn’t see? As my mind was still pulling up questions trying to figure this out, she plopped down happily on top of the grass!

So that’s new. I haven’t seen her do that before.

And then instead of questions, my mind went to answers: “Well, why not lay on top of a patch of tall, thick, soft grass?” That was actually kinda smart, I thought. It’s like an overgrown lawn patch, made just for her!

Grace was thinking much more creatively than I was that day. I was stuck in my preconceived notions of where she would be comfortable, in places where I’ve seen her before. But she went outside those boundaries and found a new, even better, spot.

Have you been witness to this kind of behavior in your workplace? Perhaps you’ve seen someone taking an initiative when another person in the same situation is ‘blind’ to the possibilities?

We can all get caught up in doing things the way we’ve always done them. In some ways, it seems efficient, because we know the routine and it’s comfortable. But we may be missing out on something wonderful, and it might even be right in front of our very eyes all the time!

The first step in getting past these normal and understandable “blocks” is to recognize it. If we don’t know we’re stuck, then we certainly can’t move to a different place. Here are a few of my suggestions to help raise your awareness and move into action:

  • Listen to others who suggest another approach. They may be telling you that your process is outdated or inefficient, or just isn’t working any more!
  • If a task feels too complex, awkward, or confusing, it probably is! Start to think about ways to simplify.
  • Don’t get stuck on staid thoughts like “we have to do it this way” or “what would Sue say if we got rid of that?” Getting too comfortable with things creates a false sense of absolutes.  Those phrases can also be a signal that you’re using excuses to prevent you from moving towards something better.
  • Make a commitment to do at least one new thing every day. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or time-consuming. Maybe it’s trying a new food or learning a new vocabulary word. Creating patterns of change will help you be open to other ideas that naturally cross your path.
  • Take any feelings of fear (of the unknown) that you have and think of them as an opportunity to learn and develop. Refocus your nervous energy into excitement about what’s to come and what you can achieve!

Sometimes we need to stay in a tried-and-true state — and it’s ok to do so for a while.  But it’s most often the case that if we haven’t evaluated our most consistent ‘things’ (whether it be processes, skills, daily habits, or relationships), we are missing opportunities for improvement. 

What examples can you think of where you got outside your normal thinking and life improved? What patch of plush, green grass will you find for yourself today? 

Are you, or your employees, stuck in the decision-making process?

This cracks me up.

Dodger is a big boy. He’s not gigantic, but he’s really too large to fit comfortably under this small table. However, he was in no way deterred, he was on a mission to retrieve a trapped toy, even though there were another dozen catnip-laced mice within easy reach. (Another lesson: what is important to you might not be important to someone else!) Making decisions depends on how much risk you see and how badly you want it.

A colleague and I were talking the other day about how frustrating it is when people don’t get back to you. Simple things, like scheduling a meeting or making a decision on who to involve on a project team.

In the beginning of our little pity party, we were not so tolerant, saying things like: “How hard is it to pick up the phone or send off a quick email to let us know?” But we quickly came around to this consensus: what looks like rude behavior (i.e. not responding) is often the result of a person being stuck in the decision-making process. For example, committing to a meeting could lead to some potential next step that might be overwhelming to that person. As a result of the meeting, perhaps they will be asked to consider more work, spend money, or change something in their routine that could be uncomfortable (even if it’s to their benefit).

What my friend and I had identified as a lack of follow-up is only the tip of the iceberg to hidden obstacles that a person is dealing with. That’s where things get tangled — and delayed. Instead of working through those issues, a person will do nothing. It seems easier. But it’s not the best way to proceed.

I believe that in any situation where there is lack of action, even in instances that seem so easy or simple, there is something deeper going on that prevents the next step.

It boils down to two things for me. First, people make decisions at different speeds. Some prefer to gather lots of data, build consensus, and reduce their risk. Others are shotgun decision-makers, moving ahead with whatever data they have, relishing in the risk involving, or at least not losing sleep over it. I was surprised when I found out where I fell on that spectrum, always imagining that I made decisions easily, quickly. That’s not exactly true. I like to think about things. Now that I know from an objective source about my natural, comfortable speed in making decisions, I can appreciate how that fits with the style of others I interact with.

The second aspect is the priority. If something is not meaningful to you, nor of any interest, then you will naturally let those decisions wait for another day. It may be important to someone else, but so what? It has to have some consequence (good or bad) to you in order to move you into action.

Here’s what to do if you, or your employee, gets stuck and can’t (or won’t) make a decision:

  • Recognize that you and another person might be processing the information at a different speed. Gain an awareness of where you’re at, where the other person is at, then discuss some medium ground, so you can find the right balance of moving ahead at a pace that works for both parties.
  • Understand the cause(s) of the delay. Once you identify the obstacle that is holding you back, you can deal with it. And trust me, it’s better to deal with the issue than just let it hang. It will free up your mental space to handle other situations more clearly.
  • Determine what are the pros and cons of moving ahead. If you were to go in one direction, what are the benefits and costs (financial and non-financial)? Similarly, what are the downsides? When you get a handle on this information, it’s easier to see the value in making a choice. Someone once gave me this wonderful piece of advice: when you are clear [about whatever the situation is], your choices become easy.

It’s common to get stuck. People are busy with a million things calling them to act. So we sometimes excuse our own behavior (“I just have too much to do”) or blame others (“she doesn’t care a bit about her job”). Neither party wins when things are at a standstill and it’s important to remember that doing nothing is not an acceptable resolution.

Managers and employees can work together to get unstuck. It’s a matter of making it a priority. In what ways do you get unstuck? Comment below or give me a shout. I’d love to hear from you! 

What to do when an employee doesn’t listen to your feedback

While watching a friend's dog (Sammy on the left), Grace was determined to sleep in HIS bed all the time instead of her own. This was very frustrating to me -- why must she 'steal' his bed -- and even the jacket left behind with the scent of Sammy's mom? We can't always know the motivation or reasons people (or dogs) do something, only enforce expectations when problems result. Here, the dogs slept fine in whatever bed they landed in, lucky for Grace that I didn't have to bounce her!

We recently watched a friend’s dog (Sammy on the left) and the entire time he was with us, Grace was determined to sleep in HIS bed instead of her own. Despite our encouragement to rest in her own bed, Grace continued to ignore our good advice. This was very frustrating to me — why must she ‘steal’ his bed — and even take control of the jacket left behind for Sammy with the scent of his mom? We can’t always know the reasons people (or dogs) do (or don’t do!!) something, nor is it our place to make a judgment about them because of their inaction. The role of a manager is to set an expectation and then enforce it — when problems result. Here, the dogs slept fine in whatever bed they landed in, lucky for Grace that I decided not to bounce her!

Someone I know has been unhappy in his current job for some time. He and his employer have had their ups and downs working together, almost all related to differences in their own styles, not dissatisfaction with the results of his work. The employee has gone as far to say that he wants a career change. He’s voiced this desire for some time now, and while the degree of his determination ebbs and flows, generally there has been a consistent theme. His manager has been very supportive, offering resources and being open to a change. But despite all the encouragement, he remains in his current job, with no evidence of doing anything to move himself in a new direction.

It’s very tempting for his manager to get frustrated that this employee hasn’t done something about his situation. This employee is smart, talented, and capable. If he truly feels that this job is not fulfilling, why doesn’t he do something about it?

I bet every one of us has experienced something like this in our own lives; when we recognize that we need — even desire — a change but find it nearly impossible to break out of our existing routine. Maybe it’s unhappiness with the job we’re in. Maybe we want to lose a few pounds. Quit smoking. Exercise more. Reach a new professional goal. When we can recall our own struggles to advance, it helps us have empathy to the obstacles someone else faces.

Yet when we, as managers, offer constructive feedback to show a person how they can get out of a jam, we have a tendency to expect that the person will immediately take action. We KNOW it is in their best interest to do so, so WHY DON’T THEY LISTEN TO US? (Yes, I’m screaming, isn’t that what we feel like doing when we can’t get an employee to change?)

When managing people, it’s important to do your best job at delivering feedback effectively, but remember that is no guarantee that they will hear you. It is not your role to make judgments on why a person does or doesn’t do something — even when they agree and say how important it is to them. If nothing is happening, then the bottom line is that the timing isn’t — yet — right for them.

Last Friday, I attended an inspiring women’s conference in Manchester, NH. The keynote speaker was Tory Johnson, long-time contributor to ABC’s Good Morning America. She spoke of her life-long struggle to lose weight. She walked us through her journey of multiple failed attempts to shed pounds. But after having a fateful conversation with her manager in December of 2011, a shift happened for Tory. In 2012, she succeeded in dropping 62 glorious pounds. Why then and not before despite the fact that she had always desperately wanted to have a healthier weight? (I highly recommend her book, The Shift, which I read from cover to cover last Sunday, to hear all the details first-hand.)

When you read the book (or hear her speak as I was lucky enough to do), you’ll learn that Tory’s manager delivered the feedback with extraordinary compassion and grace. There were no overt directives imploring Tory to take immediate action; there were no demeaning threats. Was that the reason Tory finally took action because her manager delivered the tough message so effectively? No.

Certainly it helped, but it wasn’t the real reason she moved forward. Her motivation came from within. My point in today’s post isn’t to say that the delivery isn’t important. It definitely is. But even if you offer your feedback in the best way possible, there are no guarantees that will make a difference.

Timing was the reason Tory took action. For the first time, she was ready to deal with the tough issues and behaviors that she had ignored before. Tory was open to hear the message that her manager delivered to her about her appearance. She had gratitude to her for the way the conversation was handled and respect for her because this manager was forthright to put the subject on the table — delicately, but clearly.

I want managers to do their best in delivering feedback, but it’s equally important to understand that it won’t guarantee the individual is ready to take action.

Here are my recommendations for what to do after you deliver your feedback: 

  • Step back and watch for changes. If there is the tiniest of improvement, stick with the person and help them in whatever way you can.
  • If you don’t see any changes, don’t take it personally. Remember, this is about them, not you.
  • Make any further decisions based on what is right for the organizational needs. What impact is this having on the job? The team? Like in Grace’s case, as much as I disliked her taking over Sammy’s bed, Sammy didn’t seem bothered by it. Let things work out naturally whenever possible, but know you may have tough decisions to make as well.
  • You need to do what you need to do and so does the employee. If those paths coincide, great. But it might be necessary to walk on different paths, too.

As for the aspiring career-changer, I wholeheartedly believe, as he does, that the job he is in is not ideal for him. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easier for him to change. If you’re getting frustrated by a lack of inaction by someone else, do what you can to help motivate, but realize that the work is really in the hands of the person to decide if and when they want to change.

Got a frustrating situation you’d like to discuss? Let’s talk!

Managers must rebuild and let employees fly after a failure

I was hoping to watch two baby robins grow up in the nest, but it's empty today. These parents will move on and try again. What obstacles are in your way of starting over?

I was hoping to watch two baby robins grow up in the nest, but it was not to be. Neither baby made it past two days after birth. These parents will move on and try again. Do you let simpler obstacles, with less weighty ramifications, stand in your way of trying again to do something significant?

This empty nest is a sign of failure. But it won’t stop these robins.

Just days ago, this nest held two eggs that had hatched into not-very-attractive creatures. Despite their homely appearance, I was looking forward to hearing sweet baby chirps and watching the day-to-day development of infant robins from the close vantage point of our deck, since the nest was perched right on the railing, hidden under heavy cover of our forsythia shrub. But it wasn’t to be.

For an unknown (to me) reason, the parents were unsuccessful at raising their young. Yesterday, I found one baby dead on the deck floor. I peered in the nest, to find it empty, and assumed the second one had likely become dinner for a larger bird. However, later in the day as I was trimming back the branches that have overgrown the corner of the deck, I found the second baby who had perished outside the nest and was left to rest under all the branches.

These parents had made their presence quite clear to us in the days leading up to the eggs hatching. When we were in the area, they loudly squawked from nearby trees, asking us to leave this sacred place. Experiencing the death of their young ones was traumatic for them, I’m sure.

Yet, I imagine that it in no way deters them from starting over. Why then, do we humans, find it so easy to give up in the face of much simpler obstacles — and ramifications — we face in order to reach our goals?

I had a conversation with a friend the other night and we talked about the number of times that highly capable people doubt their own ability to do things, even when others see it as a natural for them. I bet you’ve experienced that, too, with others and perhaps yourself.

When faced with adversity, we fall back on those stories in our head that say things like:

  • “I’ve never been good at ‘x’”
  • “Last time I tried that, I failed miserably.”
  • “I’m afraid to try because it seems so overwhelming.”
  • “Where would I start?”
  • “I’m afraid to make a mistake that big.”

Life is for learning. And if we aren’t stretching to do things new and different, challenging and invigorating, we’re missing the opportunity to reach our full potential. In organizations, there are lots of built-in barriers that prevent us from stretching. Things such as being in control, displaying the perception of confidence and knowledge, and avoiding mistakes that could be costly, both financially and to our egos. These are all opposing factors to trying new things.

That’s why it’s important for managers to create an environment for learning — and failing. Without it, everything, and everyone, becomes stagnant.

Maybe these robins will find a safer place for their next nest. Of course, it’s sad that little ones had to die for potential mistakes made by their parents. It’s also equally possible that this outcome had nothing to do with how or where they built the nest. That’s an important lesson for us to learn, too. Sometimes when we “fail” it has absolutely nothing to do with our actions; it could have been caused by factors beyond our control.

So pick yourself up, and try again.

What examples can you think of when you tried a second, third, (or even more!) times, with huge success? In fact, it’s unrealistic for us to expect perfection out of the gate. We often achieve our greatest accomplishments when we stick with something, learning and developing, modifying and improving along the way. Yet it’s often easier to give up. To think something is not possible. That’s why we need a supportive environment that allows the time and leeway to fail.

As managers, what specific actions do you take to encourage creative behavior? Do you actively promote and inspire new ideas? Or do just give it lip service, or worse, penalize those who seek a challenge? If you aren’t sure, ask your team what ideas they have to create the culture where they feel comfortable to fail. And let us know what you hear. We can all learn from this shared wisdom!

The most difficult time to offer workplace compassion is when we need it the most

A lesson taught by a special cat

Henry shared a lesson about life just before his death.

Henry modeled an important life lesson just before his own death. (Thank you, Carol, for sharing this wonderful picture of Henry.)

On Wednesday morning, I walked into the restaurant to meet two colleagues for breakfast. We were planning to put the final touches on our workshop entitled “Handling Workplace Conflict: Lessons we can learn from animals.”

As I approached the table and started into my seat, Melinda immediately began talking, quickly but not in a panic. She said, “We have a glitch.” I listened to the events that had unfolded that same morning for our missing colleague, Carol. She had found her cat of 18 years, Henry, in the field behind her home, unable to move. Knowing the last several weeks had been creating some signs of declining health, Carol and her husband realized that this was serious.

Tears started to gently roll down my face and Melinda’s as she told me a bit more about Henry’s life. The irony — and beauty — of this situation was front and center in our minds. Here we sat, on the morning of a workshop that the three of us had been planning for a year, a program devoted to the lessons animals teach us, and Henry was becoming a beacon of our beliefs.

With Carol and Henry in our thoughts, Melinda and I worked through the scenarios of the workshop’s agenda, deciding on options that addressed the unknowns of whether or when Carol could join us. We left the restaurant, not knowing what would happen next, but confident it would all work out the way it should.

And it did.

Carol called Melinda after Melinda and I had arrived at the training location and gave the sad news of Henry’s death. She said she was on her way and would be there shortly. When she arrived, she told us that she couldn’t imagine a better way to honor Henry, participating as we originally planned. I marveled at her composure, knowing she had within the last 90 minutes, lost a long-time family member, friend, and companion.

She then told us more details of the morning, providing evidence of what we knew: animals are important teachers. After she and her husband had retrieved Henry from the field, everyone was together on the porch. The reality was settling in and Carol sat sobbing. Henry felt her emotion and though difficult to move, he made his way over to her and softly placed his head on her foot. This incredible gesture of sensitivity, warmth, and compassion is not just touching, it shows the depth of his understanding of the situation and his willingness to do something about it. In his simple but profound way, he offered an important lesson for us in life even in moments before his death: Be present. Be kind to others. Even when it’s uncomfortable to do so.

Much too often in the workplaces, we hesitate to offer such a caring act, especially in moments of stressful conflict. We worry about how it might be perceived or if it’s appropriate. Or maybe we think it is not needed or necessary.

Yes, I do see acts of kindness in the workplace, often for those easy moments, like celebrating a milestone event, or helping when someone is ill or going through a tough time. Even then, it is reserved or inhibited in some way.

Yet in more challenging situations, when someone has made a mistake or made you mad, it’s not quite so easy to be generous with support. But that’s when we need compassion the most. By opening up lines of communication during the worst of situations, we build trust with the other person, allowing understanding that will move us towards resolution. The absence of caring and curiosity stifles what makes the strongest relationships possible.

We need to take our cue from Henry. Faced with pain, uncertainty, discomfort, and sadness, yes even death, Henry did something remarkable. He reached out to care for the other person instead of focusing on his own needs.

Thank you, Henry, for modeling the behavior we should all follow. Another fine lesson from a beautiful animal.

What stories do you have that illustrate when compassion has been offered during a difficult time? How did it impact the situation? Share your thoughts below for us to learn more.

New Year, New You?

Why new year’s resolutions don’t work

Are you tired of hearing about the new year? And the pressures of making positive change in your life as the calendar shifts from 2012 to 2013?

Grace has always loved basking in a sunbeam. She finds the right spot and settles in, allowing every part of her to be wrapped in the warmth and to soak in the sensation. Today’s workplace culture places a high priority on a constant state of motion, keeping busy, answering the next call or responding to the next email. But taking a few moments out of each day to do the thing you enjoy the most will make you more productive in the long run. What is your sunbeam?

The reality is that January 1 is no better time to make a change that Dec 31. But it feels like it should be, doesn’t it?

I fall into that trap — energized on the first of January with the false notion that the next 12 months will be better, greater, more perfect than the previous ones.

It’s natural for us to take this symbolic date change to create an opportunity for improvement. We all want to build skills, to learn new things, and strive to be the best we can be. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact, we should be reaching to new heights. But our good intentions overwhelm the reality of how we can best incorporate changes into our lives, and we don’t focus on the right things. That’s why new year’s resolutions don’t work.

The irony is that when we try to do too much, or focus on the wrong objective, we end up with too little or nothing at all.

I’m still the same old me that I was a day ago. Change doesn’t happen overnight. So I’m not going to expect it.

But I still have my desires to grow personally and professionally. I believe my best shot at making that happen is to find out the core of what I want out of life. Truly understanding what I enjoy, how I can tap into my natural talents, and do more of that, is the key.

So you might say, how could I lose weight if I do more of what I really enjoy, which is to eat lots of chocolate every day? You can’t. But if you uncover that weight loss isn’t really the true goal, but rather it’s to live healthy or be fashionable, those deeper desires will drive your actions successfully. You’ll enjoy the occasional chocolate bar as you achieve a healthy weight that allows you to participate in activities that have been limiting to you, or you’ll be able to sport the type of outfit that you’ve never dared before.

The same holds true in your profession. Are you holding on to work that doesn’t fulfill you?

As we journey into another year, I’m excited about exploring some new avenues that will offer more of what I enjoy and do well in. I’m going to focus my time, my energy, and my thoughts, on finding those places, people, and events that are a fit. I’m committed to building in time to focus on the activities that fulfill me. Because when that happens, everyone else benefits, too.

My new year’s wish for you is the same. Block out time and allow your mind to discover what you want out of your life, instead of feeling bad about where you’re not. That’s a paradigm shift in thinking that takes time to develop. Change doesn’t happen overnight. (Oh, I think I said that already.)

Another resource and helpful way for you to begin this thinking is our upcoming free webinar, “Find Your Authentic Career Path in 2013.” We have two sessions, learn more and register by clicking the date that works best for you:

REGISTER HERE: Thursday evening, Jan 10, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. – 8:45 p.m. ET
REGISTER HERE: Friday morning, Jan 11, 2013 at 9:30 a.m.-10:15 a.m. ET

This year, starting right now, I hope you will take the lead from Grace. Find your sunbeam. Be clear about what you enjoy and what you do well. Then determine ways that you can do more of it.

Grace and I see a bright year ahead if you do that.

Managers should nudge, not push, new experiences

Help employees develop new skills with kindness and grace

Grace wasn’t about to be shown up by our house guest, Sammy, who was oblivious to any problems on the road that has frightened her. She moved along as if she was showing him the way, but I know this wasn’t easy for her. Reaching outside your own comfort zone can create anxiety, but also provides benefits that are long-lasting.

Sometimes you just need a gentle nudge to do something that you wouldn’t do otherwise. And afterwards, you’re grateful for that push.

Grace was evidence of this lesson the other day, when she was led down a frightening path, but found it safe and happy after all. To her credit, she bravely moved outside her comfort zone, but the nudge made the difference. A push, however, would not have yielded these same results.

We’ve been dog-sitting for a friend for the last week. Sammy is an adorable, pudgy, cuddly boy. He’s not burdened with the same insecurities that Grace has. His goofy, happy face is indicative of his easy-going nature. This dog is low-maintenance, only requiring your attention when he confidently hops in your lap cheerfully asking for your love. On walks, he trots along, somewhat slowly, but meandering along in his own world, as if he doesn’t have a care in the world.

That’s just the attitude one must have when the walking path takes you by our neighbor’s target shooting, a situation that sends poor Grace into a tizzy. Recognizing that Sammy may be able to do what we couldn’t do (get Grace down the street), my husband and I took advantage of the opportunity at hand.

We invited both dogs for a walk with us.

Grace had mixed feelings. You could just see it in her eyes. She was a bit nervous but there was no way she was going to be left behind. And our hope was that with Sammy’s calm demeanor, and our encouragement, she would ease along and find some enjoyment in the experience. And she did.

These two are finding great fascination and enjoyment from the scents along the walk, very important things for dogs. Grace has been missing this and I’m sure she enjoyed being back in her territory, thanks to Sammy’s lead, which to her credit, she followed.

Yes, we goaded Grace into doing something uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have made her go if she had been adamant in resisting (there was certainly no benefit in scaring her further), but I know that she loves this walk. Sammy’s kindred dog-spirit helped her face the scary noises. Sometimes we need a simple reassurance to help us overcome an obstacle.

Moving an employee to a new level of performance requires some changes. But the way in which it is done will dramatically effect the outcome. One way to get Grace down the road would have been to hook up a leash and drag her down the road, no matter what she felt or was trying to communicate. I imagine some employees often feel like they are getting dragged down a path.

Maybe a manager pushes because she feels that the task should be easy. Or that it’s just something that is expected in her role. Whatever the reason, it won’t change the fact that best results happen when someone feels a part of the process, not dictated to. If an employee is having a hard time accomplishing something, there is a reason for it. It’s your job as the manager to uncover the reason(s) and help the employee deal with it.

Those types of open conversations will help you build a trusting relationship, where you find the right way to nudge someone outside their comfort zone. If you try to barrel through otherwise, you’ll end up with diminished loyalty, lack of commitment, and inferior quality of work from employees. It just doesn’t pay to force someone to do something that they aren’t comfortable doing.

It’s important for a manager to nudge within the boundaries that are acceptable to the employee. And also critical for the employee to be open to accepting the challenge. There are many ways to address this.

If the relationship has a strong foundation, both parties can openly discuss what is needed and find a path that works for both. That’s when top performance becomes a walk in the park.

What situations have you seen where a manager pushes, perhaps with good intentions, but was not conducive for the best outcomes? I’d love to hear your stories!

Consistency is good, but not always the best management technique

Good managers know when to make exceptions

Normally, Grace jumps right in for her car ride to where we walk. Not this time. What do you do when your employee does the unexpected?

Grace and I have lived under the same roof for seven years now. I can anticipate many things that she’ll do or not do. She’s a mooch for treats, anywhere, anytime. She cowers when she’s near kids, and she barks incessantly whenever someone approaches the house. (All those things aren’t that flattering, I guess, but she’s really a sweet companion and I love spending time with her.) I feel like I know her well.

So, just like what can happen in long-standing relationships in the workplace, it makes me feel a bit nutty and frustrated when she throws me a curve ball from what I’m expecting.

For regular readers, you know we’ve had challenges with our walking routine. To counter those issues, in lieu of a nice walk down our street, she and I will hop in the car, drive five minutes to a quiet and lovely trail. I love it there and she’s given me every indication that she does, too. This is our new groove, a consistent pattern of what we’ve been doing together for several months now.

But not this day. I opened the back door, as I normally do, inviting her into the car, ready for our adventure. To my shock and dismay, she hid behind my legs, head down, circling me, moving away from the car, not towards it.

Instead of being excited for our walk together, Grace hid behind my legs. I could have insisted that she get in the car, but what good would that have done?

I could have forced her, but what good would that have done? I suppose there was the chance that whatever demons were bothering her would have gone away once we got to the destination. Or maybe something on the trail had frightened her. Who knows? I sure couldn’t get in her head to understand it. All I knew was that she was taking a very strong stance to say: “Nope, no way, don’t want to go in there, please don’t make me.”

What prompted that reaction, I wondered? I have no idea. Sometimes she really does make me crazy when I can’t figure her out.

And I know employees will create the same frustration with their manager. Rather than respect what’s going on with the other person, it’s quite common for us to push harder, ask the person to do the same thing, even in a more forceful way. In fact, that creates more friction within the person and they often move more to the opposite direction — or give in but carry a heavy weight of feeling defeated and misunderstood.

It was hard to get a picture because she kept circling my legs to avoid the entry into the car, completely different from my experiences with her before. In fact, this picture gives a look of sadness from her; how often are our employees sad — or mad — at us for something we insist they do?

We didn’t go for a car ride and walk that day. Instead we stayed in the yard and meandered around the adjoining wooded lot. She was happier and even though I was disappointed not to enjoy the place I really love to go with her, I felt it was better than forcing her to do something she didn’t want, nor really needed to do.

Some might think my reaction was soft. That I let her call the shots. And who knows, maybe I do at times. I feel it’s a balancing act — with dogs and people. Sometimes you have to take a stand, other times you can go with the flow. It’s important to recognize and honor the difference.

We do our best to anticipate how to manage a particular project or person, but environments are fluid and we have to watch for signs that take us down a different path. Managers need to figure out what is needed to complete the job, and work as best they can within the framework of the other person’s style to accomplish that. If you’re interested to find some tools to help you, let’s talk.

People don’t change just because you have asked them to do so

Grace will always love to hunt for frogs at the water's edge. There is no way I could stop that instinct. Are you expecting changes from someone that are unrealistic?

Grace got another rabbit.

I don’t post this lightly. You know how devastated I was the first time it happened. And by admitting a repeat performance, well, it’s like admitting failure. How could I allow a horrible thing to happen not just once, but twice?

I can’t blame Grace, even though that would be convenient. I was sure she could tell how distraught I was before. Animals are supposed to be so in tune with their owner’s emotions. How could she not know that I was so upset over the incident? And therefore, if she knew how distraught I was, I could surmise that there was no way she would do it again.

Does this situation sound familiar in your workplace? Somehow, we think that the other person “just knows” that what they did was something we didn’t want them to repeat. We have this impression that after just one conversation, magical changes will occur and we’ll never have to address the issue again.

It just doesn’t work that way. Changing an action is a very difficult thing to do. We do things for a reason. It could be that it’s our comfortable style or that it’s something we never had a problem with in the first place.

With Grace, it’s her instinct to chase a rabbit. There is little hope that I would ever be able to successfully call her off such a hunt. Being on a leash would be the answer, of course, and trust me, in the seconds that the events unfolded, I realized that the leash was doing no good in my pocket.

The first time this happened, I was totally taken off guard. I’d never seen a rabbit around there before. Two days ago when Grace plucked an unsuspecting bunny from underneath a fallen tree trunk, I wasn’t prepared, but I instantly knew what was happening.

I have no idea how many rabbits have taken up residence near our home and I definitely don’t want to find out the hard way. I haven’t gone back there with her, nor plan to anytime soon, and when we’re anywhere near there, she’ll be on a leash.

Asking her to change from doing something that is completely within her instincts and nature is just setting us both up for failure. It’s just as ridiculous to expect overnight changes in behavior from a co-worker, even when there has been conversation.

We have to create a new structure, or alter a process, that will allow for new pathways of change to occur. For me and Grace, it’s removing the temptation.

I often work with situations where a manager and an employee have opposing work styles. The balance of those different styles can sometimes be a real advantage but it also creates friction. A common difference is Energy level. This pertains to the way one approaches the flow of their work. On one end, a person is more methodical and focused, working to complete one thing before moving to the next, often giving the perception of working more slowly. Meanwhile the other person is juggling a thousand things at once, reading email while talking on the phone and motioning to the person standing in front of their task. Asking one person to operate using the other person’s style would be pointless. They may be able to handle it for a short period, but the stress of behaving in such a foreign way would be unproductive for everyone. We need to find ways to adjust the structure of the environment that will allow for the most natural fit of the way a person needs to operate.

I cried when I buried that second bunny this week. It was heartbreaking to know an innocent animal was killed again. But it is unrealistic for me to think that Grace will change her ways just because it makes me so sad.

When managing others, remember that change will happen when the structure changes to support a different behavior. Are you expecting different results without doing anything differently? People won’t change just because you have asked them to do so.

Manage change by moving forward a little at a time

On our walk a few days ago, I kept noticing how many grey hairs were creeping into Grace's muzzle. When I look at her now, I don't see the youthful face that I once did. Some types of change are easier to accept than others, but we can't stop it from happening.

Do you embrace change? Or resist it?

Perhaps the answer depends on the circumstances of the change. But no matter what your reaction, it’s important to know that change will happen.

It’s bittersweet for me to think of Grace aging. I always loved her beautiful, deep reddish color that now seems lighter, transitioning to more and more grey over her face. Her running sprints seem shorter and not quite as fast, even though she’s still quick enough to outpace many dogs, no matter what their size. I admit to having a twinge of sadness when I can no longer think of her as young (she’s not old yet, either!), but I realize that it’s just one of many natural changes of life that happens to all of us.

Change happens all the time, all around us. Priorities in our work, people who we work with, companies we work for, products we sell, the tools we use to communicate, are all constantly in flux. If we don’t stay current with those changes, we get left behind. So we need to find ways to adjust and manage the change as opposed to trying to stop it. It will happen whether we stand still or not. Will we move with it? Or will we get left behind?

Sometimes we initiate the change and other times we have no control over it. In either case, it brings uncertainty, and that can be stressful. It can also be equally exciting. And yes, sometimes both!

That’s what I feel with my new website.

It’s been fun to watch the design evolve and come to life; an endless stream of fresh energy. It hasn’t been easy, though. There were a ton of details that had to be planned and executed. I was fortunate to have the skills of many talented people to pull the ideas into reality. My goal was to have a website to better reflect who I am and what I do, and serve as a forum and resource for ongoing learning. You can let me know if I hit the mark. I always welcome your ideas and suggestions.

The project required a lot of time to understand what I needed to do, what I wanted to accomplish, what I could do myself, and what I needed help with. There were many unknowns to me and even though it was something I really wanted, it would have been a lot easier to put it on the back burner and say I didn’t have time or that what I had was good enough.

There have been days when I’ve looked at other sites and felt like I was so behind, that I had so much catching up to do. I had endless questions. How would the information be organized? What pictures should I include? Do I really need a Facebook page? How would my current blog be impacted from a technology perspective? There were moments when it seemed overwhelming.

I tried not to get mired in what I didn’t know or didn’t have, but stay focused on what was possible and move forward to do what I could. When faced with resisting change or embracing it, it’s helpful to think about what you can do as opposed to what you can’t.

Grace can still run circles around most anyone, despite those grey hairs I see. For all of us, it’s a good lesson to remember that time won’t stop and wait for us to catch up. It’s best to keep moving forward than not moving at all.

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