Thursday, March 22, 2018

Your People are the Hard, not the Soft Side, of Change

Guest post from CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke:

If you want your organization to successfully embrace your strategic change, focus on the human aspect. That’s right. People will be the ones implementing the change. So, get them involved, listen to them, and work together. If you do, you’ll build tremendous loyalty, trust, and engagement, which is priceless.

As coaches, our work with leaders includes focusing on the human side, which helps leaders reap the ROI of their business or smart investment. In short, we teach leaders to be proactive with change.

When I, CrisMarie, was consulting with Blue Cross Blue Shield in the early 2000s, I was lucky enough to get certified in the Leading and Managing Organizational Transitions through William Bridges & Associates. Much of how I approach change initiatives is influenced by William Bridges, the grandfather of change management and author of Managing Transitions.

A critical proactive measure is to be sure you communicate about the change early, often, and in varied ways. Give your people what they need to get on board with the change. I’ve adapted Bridges’ work for this simple communication framework called Why, What, How, and Who:  

Why:  Start with why. People need to understand why this change is so important. You have a good reason. Let them know what it is.

What: Paint a clear picture of how the world will look and feel on the other side of the change so people understand what you are aiming for. Your team wants to know how the destination will look and feel. Understanding the target will help them gauge their progress along the way.

How: Lay out a step-by-step plan how the organization will get to the final destination.
Plans may change as you travel and close the gap between where the organization is now and where you want it to go. Offer frequent updates.

Who: Who needs to do what? Help your people understand exactly what they will be doing to make this change a reality. You can’t do it alone. Giving people a role helps them buy in to the change as they participate in the implementation.

For people to buy in to change, they need to understand the change from your point of view. You know why you want to change, what you are aiming for, how you are going to get there, and who needs to do what. Explain that to them so it becomes crystal clear, easy to understand, and nearly impossible to be misunderstood. 

In addition to the why, what, how, and who, people want to know that you care about more than just the business results. They want to know you care about them as human beings. When you communicate, let people feel like they are part of this process, because, in fact, they are. You literally could not do it without them.  

Show them they matter as people. They are not just cogs in the wheel. You hear and understand their points of view. Be considerate. Let them talk about where they are in the change process, especially if they are upset with it. Shutting down their frustrations only sends those feelings underground, causing bigger problems, like gossip and undermining – what we call corporate cancer. This will only sabotage your change efforts.

Let them know you haven’t discarded them. Show the team how they are still connected to the company, to you, and to each other in the midst of this change. Give them a specific role to play, hear their feedback, and encourage their participation in the solution.

Combine the why, what, how, and who when you address the organization. This detailed communication gives people clarity about where they are going, and helps them get and stay engaged.

So, what happens when things get bleak? Let’s look at the Valley of Despair.

Valley of Despair

Change requires people to work differently, be it on a system or in a specific business process.
Going from what was to what will be involves a period of transition. During this transition, productivity almost always drops. In change management circles, this is called the Valley of
Despair. It’s based on and adapted by various Change Management experts from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief” described in her book, On Death & Dying.  
Productivity falloffs during times of transition is due in part to concrete changes such as new systems and processes. It’s also due to the internal process human beings navigate to embrace the change.

William Bridges says that when change occurs, people have to experience psychological reorientation to the new way of being. For people who have been doing the same things at the same place for a long time, this does not happen overnight. People process at different speeds.
As a leader, you can support individuals to move through this process.

What seems like resistance is often fear of the unknown.

Most people really do want to do a good job. They resist the new way because they’re afraid of losing competency, status, control, relationships, turf, meaning, and/or identity. This fear mires them in resistance. Getting specific about what they fear they are losing and acknowledging that fear will help them move through the resistance.

For example, let’s say you’re implementing a new software system. You have an older employee, Bob, who is a wiz on the old system. Everyone comes to him when they have issues. When the new system arrives, with much more modern technology, Bob may feel a bit threatened. His feelings are justified. All of a sudden, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s a beginner. If there’s not space for him to acknowledge his loss of competency, he may feel so overwhelmed that he quits. When he does, all his organizational knowledge, which is priceless, walks out the door with him.

If instead, there’s permission for him to first acknowledge the loss, he can then feel it and accept that he’s a beginner. This makes it easier for him to engage in the training offered. Acknowledgement of what is being lost right-sizes the impact of change. The system is new, but Bob still knows all about the organization.

Once Bob, or any employee identifies their loss, they can move through it and figure out how to replace or redefine what they have lost. Sometimes they have to come to terms with the need to let go, or relinquish, something. For Bob, he may have to let go of “man to go-to” status when the new system arrives as the younger employees learn it more quickly.


Communication — early and often — is a key responsibility for leaders implementing big change. Communicate why the organization is changing, what the end goal looks and feels like, how the organization will get there, and who will do what to make it so.

And remember, success depends on bringing your people along. Treat them as humans so they know they matter to you, to each other, and to the company. Be prepared for the Valley of Despair, and provide a path for individuals to honestly talk about their struggles in the change process. Give them ways to identify what specifically they’re losing in this change and how they can replace, redefine, or relinquish what they have lost.

Finally, keep in mind that big change can take months or years to successfully implement. Stay connected to your people for the entire journey. Then you’ll reap the ROI you’ve been looking for.

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are coaches, business consultants, speakers, and co-authors of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage. They and their organization, Thrive! Coaching and Consulting specialize in helping professional women, leaders, teams and entire companies learn how to transform conflict into creativity and innovation.  

Leadership Can Sometimes Come from Where You Least Expect It

Guest post from Scot Hunsaker:

Back in 2000, my company, CounsilmanHunsaker was in need of a receptionist. After our interview process, we found Macy to be the best fit for the position. It would be an understatement to say that when she interviewed with us and was hired, she was inexperienced in the industry. From day one, however, she displayed a natural curiosity for how the business worked and, most importantly, how it could be improved and what role she could play in that improvement.

Very quickly, Macy’s role within the company began to change. Within a couple of years of joining us, she was helping us manage events and customer experiences. She had a real talent for spotting ways that the customer experiences could be improved and then working to implement ways to make those improvements happen. She did this with little need for instruction or oversight despite her lack of experience.

As we began to have authentic conversations at CounsilmanHunsaker, we saw the need to formalize the process of finding emerging leaders in the organization. There were people who excelled at thinking about the future of the company, so we needed a place for them to have influence – not because of their title or tenure, but because they demonstrated the will and ability to lead. My partners and I decided that the strategic planning process was the best experiential way that emerging leaders could shape the future of the organization.

In one of the first conversations about our new strategic planning process I had with my partners, we identified Macy as one of those emerging leaders. She had a sense for finding the ways to continuously improve processes and she cared enough to follow through on that as best as her current role would allow. And we felt she was ready for a seat at the table. Just five years after she was hired to be our receptionist, Macy became part of our strategic planning team. Through her research and dedication to helping us grow, she helped to formalize our strategic improvement and management processes. Perhaps less obvious on paper, but unavoidable in experience, Macy had a tendency to be optimistic – to expect the best of herself and others. In short, she was inspiring. This kind of artful leadership ability was not a theory. We could see it on full display. She leaned into leadership situations that likely caused her some discomfort. But she did them with a kind of passion that made every interaction with her meaningful and engaging.

Little did we know at the time that was just the beginning of the leadership role at CounsilmanHunsaker for Macy.

Allow for Leaders to Emerge

It is not lost on me that we were lucky to have a person like Macy in our company. Aplayers like that are hard to find. And that is just the point. How often do we overlook people who have the leadership ingredients but nowhere to go with them? This does not happen because we don’t care, but because there is no set structure or path to a leadership role outside of pure instinct.

This matters in the context of building a legacy for your organization. No matter what you may decide you would like to do with your business, there is a need for knowledgeable leaders who know how to make decisions. Pay close attention to your people. You most likely have more potential leader than you think.

To find and encourage the potential leaders like Macy within CounsilmanHunsaker, we built upon the structures we already had in place when we had authentic conversations. We used a combination of the corporate dashboard, SWOT analysis, employee surveys and customer surveys and created a strategic planning group. By using the activities associated with strategic planning, we found a way to engage people in ways that were challenging, but did not set them up for failure.

We found, through trial and error, that strategic planning is best done with no more than ten people present total to promote some intimacy and not a public speaking forum. I also made sure, as the CEO, that I listened more than I talked. This was not easy for me. We wanted to create our collective plan and not mine. And I wanted to observe how they dealt with adversity, being challenged and how they thought through their portion of the plan.

As a concept, strategic planning has been around since before the Great Depression. Using the concepts involved in plotting the growth of a business is at least a 100yearold idea. At this point, there are as many ways to strategically plan as there are privately held companies. It is nothing new. The nuance I want you to grab hold of is using strategic planning as a tool for creating a legacy. It is the why behind the strategic planning. This is the best tool that we found for allowing the cream to rise to the top – for leaders to emerge. At CounsilmanHunsaker, we decided that strategic planning was the most fitting leadership training ground for legacy creation. We did not want to make people feel like leaders. We wanted them to have a chance to really be leaders. We wanted them to put their ideas to the test. Being able to strategically plan for the future is a prerequisite for ownership. So why not use that critical skill as a way to identify your next crop of leaders? 

Scot Hunsaker is the author of the book Heroic Ownership, and leads The Ardent Group, an organization that provides owners with the necessary roadmap to build a team of co-owners and create a legacy.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

3 Reasons Why Your Company’s “Superhero” Leadership Strategy Isn’t Working

Guest post from Mark Busine:

Would you describe your company’s CEO as Wonder Woman, or your executive vice president as Batman? Do the regional managers remind you of the Fantastic Four?

I’d guess it’s unlikely that you think of your leadership team in this way. So you might be surprised when I say that many companies including yours are following a Superhero leadership strategy. And the research suggests it’s probably not working.

A Superhero strategy is a leadership strategy in which an organization focuses most of its time and energy on developing a small, exclusive group of people who are destined for major roles in the company. Often called a high-potential pool, this group is usually very hard to get into, and once in, people are reluctant to leave it. These people are given the bulk of leadership development resources, get first shot at exciting new opportunities, and are first in line for promotions.

In other words, if you’ve noticed that your organization consistently relies on the same small group of people to take on any and every new challenge facing the company, then your company is probably following the Superhero strategy.

A Superhero strategy isn’t necessarily bad, and it’s certainly better than having no leadership strategy at all. But as companies continue to struggle with employee engagement, a rapidly changing business landscape and the pressures of disruption in nearly every industry, Superhero strategies alone are insufficient. Here are three big problems with Superhero strategies, and how to fix them:

Problem #1: Thinking of leadership potential like a super power
Whether they can fly, become invisible, or run at lightning speed, most superheroes possess natural abilities that no ordinary human could possibly learn. Many organizations approach leadership potential in the same way, assuming that it’s a natural quality that very few people have. That view of leadership potential worked fine in the past when organizations were more hierarchical, and requirements of leadership were left to a select few. But today’s businesses need to be more agile and rely increasingly on shared leadership. They need people to show more leadership behavior across their organizations, not just those who carry the title of manager or leader.

The Fix: Grow leadership potential like physical strength
Start thinking of leadership potential like you would physical strength. In other words, everyone has different starting points and different areas of strength. For example, some may have more leg strength while others have more upper body strength, and some have more stamina while others are faster. But everyone has the potential to get stronger. Organizations that think of leadership potential as a set of strengths and weaknesses that can be improved will be able to build a much stronger overall organization than one that spends its time searching for one or two Hulk-like characters.

Problem #2: Thinking you know who the bad guys are
Whether it’s Superman vs. Lex Luther or Batman vs. the Joker, Superhero sagas often include an everlasting battle between a superhero and an equally-matched supervillain. Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they could devise clever ways to beat their opponents. This scenario once described the competitive landscape for many businesses, who typically knew a lot about rival companies, enabling them to build a team of people who had the skills and abilities to meet the competition. But in today’s world, companies are more likely to face disruption from a start-up they never heard of or a college student testing a new theory. Their existing group of Superheroes may be completely unprepared to face a new form of disruption.

The fix: Expand your definition of leadership potential
Many organizations have a narrow definition of leadership potential which is often closely modeled after current and past company leaders. These narrow definitions often cause organizations to continuously choose high-potential leaders who look and think like the same leaders that the company has traditionally had. Instead, organizations need to broaden their definition of leadership potential to uncover diverse skill sets and mind sets that may be better suited to meet new challenges facing the company.

Problem #3: Waiting for the superheroes to save the day
The most satisfying part of any Superhero story is when the Superhero swoops in at the last moment to save the day. But while the drama makes for a great movie or comic storyline, it’s a major problem in the workplace. Putting so much pressure on the organization’s Superheroes can cause them to feel overwhelmed and burned out. Meanwhile, the rest of the workforce feel unempowered and becomes disengaged from their jobs as they wait for orders from the organization’s Superheroes.

The fix: Get more people in the game
Getting more people in the game starts with giving more people low-risk opportunities to own and manage a project or initiative. By getting more people involved in these small test scenarios, organizations can keep their workforce engaged and activate leadership potential among a much larger group of people. This approach eases pressure on the organization’s Superheroes while enabling the company to become more agile and innovative.

Even though Superheroes are still bringing in big bucks at the box office, organizations that rely too heavily on a superhero leadership strategy may find themselves unable to rapidly respond to competitive threats and disruption. Companies that expand their focus to unleashing leadership potential among more than just a select group of company Superheroes will better prepare themselves to lead in innovation and handle constant change and disruption in their industries.

Mark Busine is general manager at global leadership company DDI.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Leading through the Identity Paradox

Guest post from Larry Ackerman:

Change, and the need to keep pace with it, has been a dominant leadership challenge for at least three decades. Maxims such as change or die and change is the only constant permeate organizations, globally, keeping executives up at night as they consider how best to move forward.

There is a counterpoint to these popular sayings, which leaders should also consider: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In short, change is an insidious beast. It calls out to leaders to focus on what’s happening outside of their companies as the way to know what to do on the inside. And, in doing so, many executives – especially, those who run large, longstanding concerns – fail to take stock of what’s going on beneath the surface of their organizations, where vital, foundational factors reside, which explain how the company creates proprietary value – in spite of how the world around it is changing.

A sterling example of a company that takes both of these realities into account – the outside world and the inside world – is Apple. Apple was founded in 1976, powered by its drive to humanize the computer. That was its core identity; a statement that clarified the proprietary contribution the company was capable of making. The company has stayed true to its identity ever since. Forty-plus years later, Apple is still humanizing the computer in ways no one could have imagined back then. From the earliest Macs to the newest iPhones, Apple has constantly changed – by not changing at all. The company simply continues to re-interpret its formative identity in new and meaningful ways. To borrow the title to a famous movie, Apple has succeeded by going back to the future.

Call it the identity paradox: an organization’s ability to change from a changeless foundation. Taking this approach to leadership is the secret to staying relevant, no matter how much change is going on in the outside world. In this way, the identity paradox provides a platform for innovation that fully embraces the world as it changes, while holding fast to who the company is at its core.

Limitations and Benefits

Leading by the identity paradox is not a silver bullet. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it does increase the odds of success, over time. The power of the identity paradox cannot prevent companies from becoming acquisition targets. It cannot assure that every new product – even if they are inspired by the identity of the company – will gain sustainable traction among customers. Nor can it certify that all forays into new markets will turn out well.

The benefits that flow from the identity paradox are many, however: Chief among them is how the organization’s identity constitutes a stabilizing force against VUCA – the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, which shape today’s world. Consider the company’s identity the keel that keeps the ship ‘steady as she goes,’ no matter what the weather brings.

The leadership imperative

The identity paradox imposes an unspoken discipline on all leaders: To not lose sight of the immutable characteristics, which allow each organization to create value in its own special way, even as it responds to the irrepressible, often convulsive changes occurring around it.

Today, wholesale change is often seen as the path to salvation, where nothing is sacred and everything is up for grabs. That isn’t just wrong; it’s dangerous. When it comes to creating value over the long-term, the identity of the organization is sacred.

For leaders, embracing the identity paradox, as a management discipline is the most logical way to ensure that the enterprise will thrive, no matter how much change the outside world imposes on it.

Larry Ackerman is a leading authority on organizational and personal identity and the pioneer of Identity-Based Management. He is the founder of The Identity Circle, a consulting and coaching firm in Westport, CT. His corporate clients have included AARP, Dow Chemical, Fidelity Investments, Lockheed Martin, Maytag, National Geographic and State Farm Insurance. Larry is the author of two groundbreaking books on identity, Identity Is Destiny: Leadership and the Roots of Value Creation, and The Identity Code: The 8 Essential Questions for Finding Your Purpose and Place in the World. He has been a guest lecturer at the Yale School of Management, Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Wharton, Pepperdine, and UCLA Anderson School. He is also the author of numerous articles on identity and its impact on leadership, brand, and culture. Larry is a graduate of LifeLaunch, the initial coaching program of the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, and holds an Associate Coach Certification (ACC) with the International Coach Federation.  Email Larry at:

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Using Humor to Fuel the Success of Your Organization

Guest post by Jamie Anderson & George Gabor Burt:

In business situations in which collaboration is an important driver of organizational success,
lacking a sense of community can be a formidable barrier to delivering results. This is particularly true in today’s complex and uncertain operating environments in which a culture of solidarity and knowledge sharing become critical drivers of staying relevant. In these situations, the more a group comes together around a shared objective, the more effective it will be. To this end, humor engineered by leaders can shape a culture of empathy and relationship satisfaction and be a foundation for greater alignment. 

But of course, humor can be highly subjective and what one person finds hilarious another person may not. So knowing your audience is paramount, and business leaders who score high in the effective use of humor also tend to score high in emotional intelligence. The global nature of business today means that leaders must also be adept at adjusting their use of the different styles of humor as they cross societal boundaries – an aspect of what has become known as cultural intelligence.

Now throw the instant and global reach of social media like Twitter into the mix, and we might soon be talking about digital intelligence for leaders too. In a digital world, a comment or joke that can potentially reach millions is only a screen tap away. Leaders have never before been able to achieve this kind of mass intimacy so they need to think carefully about how humor can and should be used over the digital medium.

It is well understood by psychologists and social scientists that people who laugh together generally have stronger feelings of empathy and bonding. Humor can be used as an especially effective approach to build group cohesiveness, with a leader as the role model of projecting a relaxed and fun attitude, sharing occasional jokes, anecdotes and stories that inject a playful aspect to day to day interactions. A highly successful Irish CEO is known for whistling tunes as he walks around the office, projecting an energetic, fun and relaxed demeanour.

In situations where a leader needs to increase sociability across organizational hierarchies, self-deprecating humor can be used. At a recent employee event, Alain Dehaze, CEO of the Adecco Group, was joined on stage by a young British intern who was shadowing him for the month. The intern was describing how much time the two were spending together, having visited six countries in just eight days. The intern quipped: “Just about the only thing I don’t know about him is the color of his pyjamas.” As quick as a flash, Dehaze responded, “That’s probably a good thing, because I don’t wear any pyjamas!”

But while self-deprecating humor can reduce social distance and make leaders seem more collaborative, participative and open, it must be used with caution. Humorous self-criticism works much less well as a tool to engage with peers and superiors, and can even reduce one’s credibility with subordinates if used excessively.

When used effectively, self-deprecating humor can also be beneficial in addressing criticism and resolving conflict that might negatively impact collaboration. Applying humor in such difficult situations has less to do with being funny and more to do with a leader’s ability to react to others with understanding and imagination.

Humor can also be utilized to reduce the pressure of stress associated with deadlines, targets or crises. Social humor is best leveraged in these situations, not to make deadlines or challenges disappear, but to improve morale, to help individuals avoid feelings of isolation, and to increase the solidarity of purpose needed to overcome adversity. We recall a joke told by a regional CEO in a European-based telecoms equipment company to open an employee meeting: CEO: “Knock, knock.” Audience: “Who’s there?” CEO: “China!” The firm had recently lost some important contracts to Chinese competitors, so everybody in the room immediately understood the punch line. The CEO went on to speak about why there was a need for greater agility, alignment and collaboration.

Due to its tendency to trigger negative emotions, strong humor should be used sparingly or avoided altogether, and only ever directed at external targets where there is an urgent need to overcome complacency or strong internal inertia. During a difficult period for the company, the then CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer was widely condemned for joking sarcastically at an employee gathering: “I’m not here to announce lay-offs (pause)…this week.” In years gone by, strong humor might have gone beyond sarcasm to involve humiliation, ridicule, sexist or even racist overtones but these kind of jokes, anecdotes and stories have no place in today’s world.

The Internet is a new frontier for all styles of humor, but leaders should carefully think through their personal social media strategy before tweeting photos of their belly button. While having a sense of fun is acceptable in high Power Distance Index (PDI) societies in which individuals with authority are expected to have feelings of high self-worth, in these societies people of high authority might be expected to maintain or even increase power distance. So in these societies the leader should be careful in using self-deprecating and social humor. Of course, this becomes complicated for leaders of truly multinational corporations – a tweet posted in good humor in the USA could be perceived as completely inappropriate in Japan.

Time and time again in our interactions with leaders in some of the world’s most successful and innovative companies we have been struck by a recurring experience – not only are these leaders intelligent, talented and forward-thinking, many of them are also very funny. And it is not just that these senior executives are able to deliver a flawless punchline at a cocktail reception or town hall event – they are able to leverage humor as a strategic tool to build a sense of community within their organizations.

May the farce be with you.

About the authors:
This post is by Jamie Anderson and Gabor George Burt. Jamie Anderson is Professor of

Strategic Management at Antwerp Management School, and Visiting Professor at INSEAD. He has been named a “management guru” in the Financial Times, and included on Business Strategy Review’s list of the world’s “top 25 management thinkers”. Gabor George Burt is a leading business transformationist and creator of the Slingshot Platform, enabling organizations to overstep perceived limitations, re-imagine market boundaries, and achieve sustained relevance.

Jamie Anderson’s TED Talk “What is Success, Really?”

George Gabor Burt’s TED Talk: “Beyond the Wall of Our Imagination.”

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Successful Leaders Are Great Communicators: How to Connect with Your Employees

Guest post from Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss:

To be an effective leader and run a high-performing company, you need to be great at communicating with your employees. After all, when employees are well informed and feel included in company strategies and activities, they are more productive and engaged – and all of your stakeholders (especially your customers) benefit.

Effectively communicating with your employees doesn’t necessarily require you to command an audience like a rock star or give a TED-worthy presentation. Great communicators genuinely connect with company workers in ways that not only inform employees, but increase trust between the c-suite and the front lines.

Here are three ways to strengthen your connection with employees, too, and become a better communicator in the process.

1.   Be transparent.
At its core, transparency is a pretty simple concept:  You commit to employees that you will share what you can, when you can. And then you do it, consistently, especially in regard to the most buzzed-about company topics like organizational changes or product innovations. The key is to give employees a steady drumbeat of communication and easy-to-use channels where they can offer their input and feedback.

To be clear, being transparent doesn’t mean opening the information floodgates. Employees don’t want every detail about the most tactical activities and processes, communicated at equal volume and priority. Even in a transparent environment, you still need to set and follow a communications strategy, filtering your messages by audience, relevance and timing.

And keep in mind, there will always be information you can’t and won’t communicate, because of confidentiality or financial-disclosure regulations. When you can’t be transparent with employees, be sure you tell them the reason.

2.  Be authentic.
Transparency is about WHAT you communicate, and authenticity is HOW you communicate. Some leaders communicate the way they believe leaders “should” share information – buried in loads of industry jargon delivered behind a formal podium.

Masking your authenticity places artificial barriers between you and your audience, and removes your ability to play to your strengths. If you’re more comfortable in small-group settings, skip the all-company town hall and hold a series of employee coffee chats instead. At your best in casual, online discussions with employees? Supplement your strategy with regular messages to employees via internal social media.

Always play to your strengths as a communicator. You will deliver more effective messages while authentically connecting with your audience.

3.    Be vulnerable.
It’s a difficult moment for a leader: an employee stands up in a meeting or Q&A session and asks THE tough question. “Why did this strategy fail?” or “How are you going to fix this?” These moments test a leader, and the best communicators answer in the most straightforward and truthful way possible:  “I made a mistake” or “We simply don’t know yet.”

Many leaders try to avoid appearing weak or unknowledgeable, so they dodge the question or avoid the uncomfortable moment altogether. But it’s always better to hit a topic head-on. In fact, start the meeting or memo with it: “I know you’re all probably wondering …”

This level of honesty goes hand-in-hand with transparency and authenticity, and will go a long way to establish trust between you and your employees.

Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss are co-owners of ROCKdotVOSS Communications.
Their debut novel B.S., Incorporated – a funny, heartfelt, fictional take on corporate America – has been called “a veritable how-to and how-NOT-to for all company leaders.”

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The 5 Rights All Humans Have—Are You Honoring Them At Work?

Guest post from Christine Comaford:

Tania is a brilliant CEO of a super successful accounting firm. Carlos, her VP of operations, is a bright and solid asset to the firm. But sometimes Tania and Carlos clash big time, especially when Tania wants faster results and shorter timelines on client projects. Then Carlos slows down—fast results to him mean poor quality and possible problems in client care, which he also owns. So as Carlos gets more cautious, Tania gets more impatient and massively triggered. She feels unsafe and starts to micromanage Carlos, who then rebels, feels unappreciated, and grinds to a halt. He will not make a client-facing mistake. Period.

Tania and Carlos want the same thing: high-quality work delivered to clients in a timely manner. But they both have needs that they need to tune into: Carlos’s is safety, and Tania’s is safety and mattering. When Carlos’s needs aren’t honored, he cannot take action. When Tania’s needs aren’t honored, she feels devalued. As a result, projects are delayed, and unhappy clients call Tania, who then gets more upset. She and Carlos lose even more trust in one another, and Tania feels unsafe selling more client engagements because, what if they are delivered late?

The team gets confused and thinks, “Wait a sec! We have these huge leaderboards showing our sales, quality, and client deliverable deadlines. So why are we selling less? Delivering late? Questioning quality?” Half of the team goes into panic and fight or flight, while the other half freezes. They’re all in what I call Critter State—the reptilian/mammalian brain hijack where a person reacts from fear versus choice.

This scenario is a perfect example of the big negative repercussions a business can experience when leaders’ needs aren’t honored. Although Carlos and Tania wanted the same thing, their individual needs were slightly different, and they made different negative meaning when these conflicts arose. As a result, client relationships were at risk, the team lost confidence and panicked, and the drive for sales decreased.

What Kills Your Performance Can Ultimately Catapult It

What happens inside you when someone you’re counting on drops the ball? Do you crave safety as Carlos does? Or safety and mattering as Tania does? Or something else?

For Tania to become more emotionally agile, she needed to first identify the core “right” she felt she didn’t have that was throwing fuel on the behavioral fire. Then she needed to raise her overall behavioral baseline so that she could gradually respond from choice rather than compulsively reacting when a trigger event occurred. That way, Tania could create an environment where she experienced more control, confidence, and support—in comparison to her current world of chaos fueled by excessive controlling and constantly mistrusting Carlos.

To achieve this, I coached her to determine which Organismic Rights[i]  she felt weren’t being met. Organismic Rights are our basic human rights that are established during our early life experiences. They determine where a person will have behavioral struggles as they move through life. Put simply, like all of us, Tania had her own set of “growth areas” to work on. They were governing her behavior and hindering her performance—and she was totally unaware of them.

Until Tania and Carlos were appreciated as human beings doing the best they could, they would continually be triggered by one another, and the business would suffer.

Imagine a newborn baby entering the world. He or she is forced to adapt quickly. The psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich observed a series of stages through which all human beings must pass on their way to full body maturation, referred to as Organismic Rights. The more fully developed they are, the more that individuals can express themselves with greater aliveness and creativity (what I call the Smart State, where all 3 key parts of our brain are working together and we have behavioral choice). The less developed, the more likely they will operate in the Critter State.
            The Five Organismic Rights are these:
1.    The right to exist
2.    The right to have needs
3.    The right to take action
4.    The right to have consequences for one’s actions
5.    The right to love and be loved

Organismic Rights Behavior Decoder

Organismic Right
Behavior in Critter State
What You Might Crave
How You Can Shift into Smart State
How You Can Help Another Shift into Smart State
To exist
If a person plays small, keeps their head down, tries to be invisible, or becomes silent in times of conflict, chances are they don’t experience having the right to exist.
Safety, Mattering
Acknowledging yourself and letting yourself be seen by proactively communicating and participating, intentionally taking a role.
Acknowledging them, including them, giving them a role.
To have needs
If a person frequently puts others’ needs before their own, self-sacrifices, “takes one for the team” repeatedly, or doesn’t actually know what they want, chances are they don’t experience having the right to have needs.

Mattering, Belonging
Being present and asking for what you need specifically, letting people know what you can’t do, setting healthy boundaries, saying no when tempted to overextend yourself.
Helping out, showing you’re in this together, sharing the workload.
To take action
If a person often procrastinates or avoids commitment, chances are good they don’t experience having the right to take action.

Safety, Mattering
Getting an accountability partner to support you in making and keeping commitments, making sure you understand what “success” is so you can take action and move forward.
Help them form a plan, pair them up with an action-oriented person.
To have consequences for actions
If a person often uses victim language, blames others for their own choices and actions, or avoids accountability, chances are good they don’t experience having the right to have consequences.

Belonging, Mattering
Think of how others are impacted by your choices, consider what potential outcomes could be, look carefully at your role in what you create in your life.
Explain that course-correction is how we learn and make things better, map out the best case/worst case/likely case scenarios, and commit to helping them work through each.
To love and be loved
If a person is uncomfortable with giving or receiving affection, or being around theirs or others’ deep hurt or emotion, chances are good they don’t experience having the right to love or be loved.

Belonging, Safety
Ask for affection, ensure you reach out to friends/family, practice staying present when people around you emote, consider the benefits of compassion versus empathy.
Use the Emotion Wheel to help them understand what they are feeling, help them use Maneuvers of Consciousness to shift to Desired State.

Note that you can use this on yourself or with others too. For example, if people are struggling with accountability, they may need help increasing their right to take action. If they often blame others for their shortcomings, they may need help with the right of having consequences.

Now that you see how certain behaviors may reveal some minimal Organismic Rights, please take a moment now and rate your organismic rights from 0-5 where 5 is the highest experience of this right.
1.    Your right to exist: ____
2.    Your right to have needs: ____
3.    Your right to take action: ____
4.    Your right to have consequences for your actions: ____
5.    Your right to love and be loved: ____

Consider your ratings. Where would you like to increase your rights?
Tania and Carlos now have a powerful, healthy, high communication collaboration based on honoring both of their needs for safety, belonging, mattering and their Organismic Rights.

Regarding Organismic Rights, where do your key stakeholders at work stand? Your family members? Now revisit the table above. How would you like to help yourself and others to modify their behavior and increase their Organismic Rights? 

[i] Wilhelm Reich, Character-Analysis: Principles and Technique for Psychoanalysts in Practice and in Training, translated by Theodore P. Wolfe (Orgone Institute Press, 1945)

Christine Comaford, author of Power Your Tribe, has been a leadership and culture coach for the past 30 years.  She has also built and sold five companies with an average ROI of 700 percent.  A sought-after speaker and lecturer, she is a corporate consultant to mid-sized firms and the Fortune 1000, a leadership columnist for, and The New York Times bestselling author of Rules for Renegades and SmartTribes. For more information, please visit