A conversation with Nicole Brauckmann. Member & Still Moving Consultant Community.
“It is looking into the narratives that an organization holds about itself, and that people hold about themselves, and understanding if these narratives are helpful or hindering to the change. And then actually from there trying to understand what would be a better narrative for this organization to hold, and what would it take for us to go onto that journey.” – Nicole Brauckmann
In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Nicole Brauckmann about her journey leading Organizational Change initiatives. She begins with reflections on why it’s important client understand what the change process feels like and where they’re going. Later, Nicole dives into the four forces that support change. We also discuss the importance of storytelling and how organizational change starts with the individuals. Listen in for more tips on how to create the conditions for change to emerge.
[1:50] How Nicole Got Her Start Leading Change
[12:05] Creating Better Naratives At Your Organization
[19:40] How Change Starts With Self
[25:35] Anchoring Change To Meaning
[29:01] The Four Forces Of Change
[37: 55] Creating The Conditions For Change To Emerge
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About the Guest
Nicole Brauckmann helps individuals, teams and organisations to build the skills to navigate and excel in the light of the complex challenges and uncertainties of today’s world by creating and delivering interventions that enable leaders to look beyond the known, experience what may be possible and connect that in a pragmatic way to business reality.
Her work is based in systemic methods and tools, with deep respect for a client’s capabilities and the courage to ask difficult questions. Her facilitation of team processes always is targeted at enabling and empowering teams to deliver according to the business needs. She designs interventions tailored to the specific situation of her clients with clear views on impact and success factors, ensuring sustained high levels of performance in a healthy environment that allows the individual to grow and realize their potential. In her work, she combines the experience of almost two decades in corporate leadership roles and qualifications in systemic coaching, change management and constellations work. As executive and consultant, she has worked to deliver large scale complex change across different industries, including energy, engineering, financial services, media and not-for profit. She holds a PhD at Faculty of Philosophy, Westfaelische Wilhelms University Muenster; and spent several years on academic research and teaching at University of San Diego Business School, CA, USA
To keep her own mind level between work, family and life in general, she spends much time outdoors walking in nature and being present to the beauty in unexpected and humble places and doesn’t end a day without having immersed herself in literature.
About Voltage Control
Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.
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Douglas: Welcome to the Control the Room Podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures to the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting. Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly Control the Room Facilitation Lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real time with other facilitators. Sign up today at VoltageControl.com/facilitation-lab.
If you’d like to learn more about my book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings Quick Start Guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy firstname.lastname@example.org. Today I’m with Nicole Brauckmann at Still Moving, where she follows her passion to make change more effortless, and sustain results for all involved. She’s also the author of several articles on how to lead change more successfully, including an article at the Harvard Business Review, co-authored with Deborah Rowland and Michael Thorley, How to Get your Team on Board with Major Change. Welcome to the show, Nicole.
Nicole: Thank you, Douglas. Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Douglas: Absolutely. So as we get the start of the episode going here, I’d love to hear about how you got your start and working with change.
Nicole: How did I start working with change? I guess I’ve always been curious into the opportunities I was given, which is probably a good basis to get involved in all sorts of things. And my key forming moment probably as a change practitioner was when I had already some 10 years being in different HR functions under my belly in a large corporation. We had done several change efforts, and I was at the point where I felt, yep, here we go again. We’ll make a lot of turbulence, we’ll create a lot of effort, turbulence, dust off all the carpets, take everything into our hands to try to find a new place for it. But let’s just see three months down the line, probably every little piece of dust will have found its corner again. It won’t feel that much different from what it was before. We’ll all feel tired, we’ll all feel probably a bit disappointed with where we got to, and really question ourselves, was it worth the effort?
So with that experience, I started out in 2012, ’13 to work with Debra Roland as a provider, then to my company, when I was leading a hat for executive development for a large multinational group. And we were tasked to develop an initiative that would help the 360 top leaders to lead this organization into a future where they already knew the business model wouldn’t survive. They didn’t know what else would replace it, they didn’t know which role they could play in it, and we also didn’t have the answers. How do you prepare an organization, a group of people, to lead almost into the woods with no map, with no GPS, and so forth? And that’s when we launched a major initiative, where I had the pleasure to see and experience how working with a certain set of inner skills, with a certain understanding of what people need when you lead them to change, and also when you lead with a clear understanding of how the change process you are leading needs to feel and to be like, so it models where you want to go to.
As opposed to just doing what you’ve always had, but unrealistically hoping for a different outcome than the 5, 10, 20 times before, how that can really change things. And that, to me, was almost an awakening, finding my professional home in that context, finding words, terminology, and concept to look at change and leading change in quite a different way, which starts with yourself, which starts with who you are and what you do, and then moves out to how you interact with others. What are the dimensions you need to take care of as a leader? How do you set up change? And also, how attuned are you, how clear are you, about the undercurrent, the systemic forces, ordering forces, that play a role in any human system, actually, and how do you harness those and use them for your change process, rather than having these forces stopping you, being a barrier to where you want to go, really.
Douglas: What do you think is the driver for change these days? Is there a particular department or role that’s the source of driving the change? We talked about it starting with the individual. So are there specific individuals in companies that are driving change? Are you noticing patterns there?
Nicole: There probably isn’t one pattern across the board, but the key aspect, how change is initiated, ignited, is actually at the very top of an organization, the leadership team realizing that A, the business model is in danger of becoming obsolete, or not as successful anymore as they need it to be. Or B, realizing that they are continuously facing similar struggles and every effort so far hasn’t quite cracked these troubles, which then again lead to difficulties in making business and being as successful as you can. The other drivers for change come from strategy departments, and often also HR departments, which have the sense that the leaders aren’t quite as equipped to lead the people through the change as they should be. So that’s most often where I think change also is ignited, from the HR department thinking, “If this is where we need to get to from the strategy, how do we equip our people really to get there?” And that’s another initial point for change.
Douglas: Yeah, I was curious because you had mentioned the background in HR and then the executive development. So I started to wonder how much HR is playing a role and if training was a key element in what you’re noticing.
Nicole : Let me answer this in a slightly different way, but I think the most successful change efforts I’ve seen is when HR and other functions in the business really managed to coalesce and to work together in defining the desired objectives, the direction of the change, and then how to go about it. When one of the entities, whether that’s strategy, finance, HR, tries to do it on their own, it often leads to a disconnect which leaves important aspects of the process unattended. For example, HR has a tendency to focus on the individuals, and how employees are feeling, treated, and all the regulations that are involved with that, the organizational structure, role descriptions, which is all very important, but sometimes that is at the expense of looking at the financial side of things. That’s at the expense of looking at the strategic implications of decisions and movements that are made. So for me, true change is when it tries to look across boundaries rather than just within one department. So I wouldn’t say that change should be initiated just by one department and pushed through one department.
Douglas: Makes a ton of sense. And in fact, we talk a lot about boundary spanners and curious if that term shows up in your work at all?
Nicole: Boundary spanners?
Douglas: Yeah, I think it originates from OD, the organizational development world, but boundary spanners are in these roles that are moving between different silos and different departments. By the nature of the definition of their role, they’re able to bring people together across those boundaries.
Nicole: I don’t use that term a lot in my work, I actually haven’t heard it before, which may be because I’m native German, so it may sound something different in my own language. But I like the idea, and indeed, as you say, emergence as a change of approach is really important these days. And what we say is that emergence relies heavily on networks, lateral networks, and trying to connect people also from slightly unusual angles. So bringing the young volunteers who are interested into the topic, rather than go with who functionally in their role description should be on the team, for example. So emergence relies on rapid feedback loops, it relies on interconnectedness, and that really is what we propagate, and when we go about helping organizations through change. So in that respect, probably there is a huge overlap in what we do even though we don’t use the same term.
Douglas: I’m really fascinated by the use of networks, or the interest there. Curious if there’s much you’re doing in regards to understanding the networks when you first go in an organization, and how you go about that?
Nicole: Actually that’s a part of our routine, I’d almost say. We call that tuning into the system, and it’s not something we do as consultants, but it’s actually something we encourage everyone to do in their role as leaders and members of an organization. Tuning into the system really means being able to step aside next to yourself, almost, and to try to look with a non-personalized view at what is happening around you, in order to more clearly understand how that might feel for others, what they might need, what the system is asking for, and why things are the way they are.
I said before, but because it’s so important, I’ll repeat it, and try to not have that perspective clouded by your own hopes and wishes for how it should be, or anger about what it isn’t at the moment, and why it’s always been so difficult. But really whatever happens, try to understand that data from the system, and that then enables you to tune into the system, and that’s something we as consultants need to do in order to understand. But the second part then for consultants, as well as leaders, is being able to give that into words, so that others can see it for themselves, relate to that, and draw the right conclusions.
Douglas: Yeah, it sounds like there’s a little bit of storytelling that needs to happen after you’ve tuned in, so that other folks… You can share the insights with more people.
Nicole: Absolutely. Again, quoting my bilingual character, storytelling in German always has this slightly dubious ring of a fairytale is being told.
Nicole: Obviously it’s not that, but it is looking into the narratives that an organization holds about itself, and that people hold about themselves, and understanding if these narratives are helpful or hindering to the change. And then actually from there trying to understand what would be a better narrative for this organization to hold, and what would it take for us to go onto that journey. Absolutely.
Douglas: You bring a valid point that actually can be explored more deeply. It’s around perception. You can even relate that back to your point around tuning into the system. If someone’s using the word storytelling, and someone equates that to fairytale, or even if our stories feel like fairytales for some reason, if the perception of the stories we’re telling, the narratives we’re building, aren’t connecting with people on a deep level, they’re not going to serve us. And so I think that to me, that speaks to your point around tuning in and really paying attention to what’s actually happening rather than just checking the boxes, and assuming things are moving forward.
Nicole: Absolutely. And that’s, to take it back to what particular my work with Still Moving is about is helping people understand that there are four inner capacities leaders need to have in order to be really good at that. It simply starts with being very aware of what happens right now, here, this present moment. What goes on for me, but also be aware enough of myself to notice when I’m triggered into unhelpful patterns. So things that might happen just now suddenly become a meaning that’s not because of the present moment, that’s because of my origin story. We talked about origin stories a bit earlier, and because of my past experience I might experience something as difficult, unhelpful, when in fact it just is what it is. So the ability of a leader to notice what’s going on in themselves and around them is the starting point. The second piece then is to be able to pause and not jump into my reactive, usual response, routine mode.
Could compare that to an autopilot. When you drive a car, you don’t think about the commute you daily take to work that much, you still manage, but at the moment when the traffic light all of a sudden is red, you need to snap out of autopilot and hit the brakes. So similar to that, leaders need to do exactly that, snapping out of their autopilot in the circumstances where they really want to do change. Then you can do the tuning into the system piece, which is, as you brilliantly described it, perceiving reality accurately, with no judgment about what it should be different, but just with a deep understanding of what is really going on for me and for others. And what we’ve found in the most successful leaders of change is also, then, almost at the top of this sequence of any capacities, the ability to acknowledge the whole, so to integrate everything that happens into their worldview. Which doesn’t have to say, “I like what happens,” but, “I understand why it happens, and why it actually might point me to something that’s helpful and needed in this change that I haven’t seen before.”
Douglas: You’re making me think of the word sonder. Are you familiar with sonder? It’s a little bit of a trivia, but I find it a fascinating word because it means when we attune into the fact that everyone’s having a unique thought around us. It can be profound if you’re… Metaphysical even, right? If you’re in a large crowd and it’s like, wait a second, these thousands of people are all having their individual thoughts. And we have to take that mindset into the teams we’re working with and working alongside. Otherwise, our perception, our conditioning, will influence how we think we should move forward, and that can, I think damage progress.
Nicole: And at the same time, the difficulty is that this understanding of our being just one amongst many and the interconnectedness of it all, if you think about it, feels quite overwhelming. So I do sympathize with people who don’t want to go down that route, and find it much more easy to shut themselves off and just adhere to their own worldview. Unfortunately that will not get us out of the troubles we are in, as humankind, as a planet, and particularly also in organizations really.
Douglas: And you mentioned in the pre-show chat just around how change used to be plannable, accountable, controllable, and that just doesn’t work anymore. And I think a lot of people similarly talking about conditioning, people are conditioned to still manage and behave in those ways, and those behaviors need to be unlearned.
Nicole: Absolutely. And again, it is understandable. That’s how we are conditioned. That’s how we’ve become who we are in being planful, successful, deliver on time, do what we can to control the outcome. That’s the great characteristics that made you into the person you are today, and then helped you become a leader, a respected one and a successful one in an organization. Unfortunately, those exact traits are not really helpful these days when there isn’t much of a stable outlook into the future. I mean I can have prognosis, and I can have good analytics that tell me a little bit. And yet as we’ve all probably learned once harder than others, maybe, in the last three years about the COVID pandemic, there may be things happening which all of a sudden turn our world upside down, that becomes more frequently, more often. When we all thought when the pandemic was sort of petering out, with the war in Ukraine here in Europe, another area opened that all of a sudden capsized a lot of our assumptions about what a place the world is and how it functions.
So again, the need to regroup and rethink as organizations, what is doable, how we can survive, have become necessary. I think it’s pretty obvious that change isn’t as plannable anymore as it was in the past. The world has become so highly interconnected and complex and volatile, famous [foreign language 00:17:36], that no one single person can claim to have the answer. In fact, I’d probably encourage everyone to be very dubious to the people who are. And at the same time, as we said before, the desire for clearcut, manageable environment context make people very… How do you say that in English? People very likely to find those more simplistic worldviews and recipes appealing. Same with change.
For an organization it’s a lot easier to sell to all the stakeholders, “Oh yes, we know we have a problem here. This is the plan, how we’ll go about it, and at the end it will all be solved, and you can step back and be optimistic about us reaching our goals,” than turning to their analysts, other stakeholders, and say, “Well actually we know we have a problem. We don’t quite know what the answer is now. Here are the first three steps of what we’ll do in order to find the answer.” You get the difference, and it’s really that maturity, almost, that’s needed in people and organizations to deal with the complexity. But also the maturity in the people around them to allow for that maturity that allows for a different approach of change.
Douglas: I think you’re absolutely right that there’s this maturity curve. And I was recently looking at some research that Slack did with the futures forum around how leaders, even leaders that are aware of some of these facts and are thinking in these ways, when things become stressful, or the conditions become more difficult to deal with, they’re defaulting to older habits, because it’s what they know. It’s familiar, or what’s comfortable, even though logically they would sit down and say maybe this isn’t the best thing. But they’re doing it just out of maybe reflex or that old conditioning is kicking in. So it’s even a higher level of maturity to be able to step back and say, “Wait, what am I doing? I’m defaulting back into this counterproductive behavior.”
Nicole: And that’s exactly why we say change starts with self, and hopefully the neuroscience of recent years has proven that when under stress, we regress to habitual behavior. It’s the amygdala firing, and us going into the fight, flight, freeze mode that we all know since the Stone Age. So under stress, we become Stone Age people almost. That’s not the most helpful approach, and therefore a good deal of our work is making leaders, people in general, aware of that, and encouraging them to hit the pause button and not go to the routine response. But observing their showing signs of stress as a symptom for something being really important happening right now. So that from that, they can then look at all the options and not just pull the old trite and tested solution off the shelf, and bring it to play again.
Douglas: It reminds me of something that you were talking with me about in a prior chat around interrupting patterns. And so just rather than relying on what’s on the shelf before, even going as far as hey, how do we disrupt the momentum that’s already in place so that we can stop and analyze it a little bit more? Curious if you have any stories or any anecdotes around interrupting patterns.
Nicole: Yeah, yeah. One example I think I’ve shared elsewhere, but still I think it’s a brilliant example, facilitating a conference with the top leadership team in a client organization. We had discussed at length how the event should model the new world, and they were going for more accessible, fluid hierarchy, more feedback, a more open culture. We came into the room to find the first rows being reserved for board members. So talk about habits and routines. And then checking in with, why is that? The answer was yeah, because the people who are giving a speech need to get up on stage rather quickly. Okay, you could leave it at that, but we inquired further. So all of you are going to get on stage to give a speech? Because that was quite opposed to the design we had agreed upfront. And then they started to look sheepishly around and say, “Ah, no, no, not really.”
So yes, these habits are so deeply ingrained in organizations that it’s not really out of bad intentions or ignorance, it’s just so deeply ingrained. And sometimes the people who organize the conference, for example, don’t know about the fact that the board has decided to try out something different. So they thought they’d do as always and put the reserved place cards on the seats. I once facilitated a workshop where I had three times to clear out the space of tables that were put in the center of the room where I couldn’t need them because I wanted people to be able to move about, and facility management diligently put them back in every break because they thought that’s how the room is always laid out. So we kept shuffling tables more than anything almost in this workshop, and it was a brilliant example to illustrate to the leaders what their role was in installing change in the company. Because if they weren’t careful, the tables would be coming back even if they had said we don’t need them. And even if they’d carried them out themselves.
Douglas: Yeah, what a brilliant just reflection moment. It would be a fun exercise to try and root out little things like that, that you could intentionally have surface so that you could use it as an example for folks to have an aha moment like that. That’s super powerful.
Nicole: It was super powerful. And the group in the following workshops we did with them kept referring to, “Oh the tables are coming back again,” as a metaphor by then for everything that had been okay in the past and needed, but wasn’t quite fit for what they wanted to achieve now, but still kept creeping back in. Yeah.
Douglas: It reminds me of just these habits and rituals that outlived their purpose. Even meetings that we have that originally maybe helped us out. Maybe when we first hired someone, I don’t know, let’s say we had just hired someone to lead up some new initiative. So it was really important that we integrated a lot, and connected with that person, and got them up to speed. But once we got into the flow of things, is that meeting just checking a box now? Is it a status update and no longer providing any value? These rituals and habits can often outlive their purpose.
Nicole: Absolutely. And then of course it takes, A, the awareness of this, and then some effort to actually cancel it, and some considerate action to cancel it. Because of course, you don’t want to just cancel the meeting, leaving the person you were having the meeting with feeling abandoned and ignored and not seen anymore. So how do you communicate these changes in a way that people can accept, and find them appropriate and actually helpful?
Douglas: Yeah, that’s why I think the noticing that everyone had, so powerful, right? Because then people are asking for the change rather than… Because I’ve always been against the word buy-in, getting buy-in, because that assumes I’m selling something. If we’ve got some vision of change, like oh, let’s not have the tables, and then we got to go around and sell it to everyone. But if people really understand why they’re not serving us, then they’re going to ask for the change.
Nicole: Yeah, fully echo that. I can’t deal with the term buy-in, because I want people to understand why it’s needed, and I want to connect themselves to the purpose. That’s another part of our model which talks about the energy that is created through meaning. And if something is a meaningful activity to me, because I can see how it relates to the purpose, I’m much more willing and capable of executing it, rather than just being told this is the new way how we want things to be done right here.
Douglas: Yeah. So speaking of your model, we spoke a bit about your four ordering forces, and that seems really key to how you think about change. And I certainly resonated with the components, and I’m sure the listeners would love to hear more about them as well.
Nicole: Sure. So just briefly, we use a model we call change vitality, which is about what an organization’s leaders need to lead change successfully under the circumstances we’ve just described, with change being less one-directional, less prescriptive and less controllable than in the past. It starts with the leaders’ inner being. Obviously, no change is ever achieved without a leader doing something, which is what we call the external practices. And we’ve briefly talked also about the change approach as a different way to consciously choose how in your change process you already model what will be relevant in the future. And then we did a fascinating round of research last summer, ’21, with 80 leaders from across the globe, trying to understand if our hunch about the ordering forces, forces that are at play in any organization, really are important to change what we believe from what we had observed.
But we wanted to scientifically almost prove it. So if you ask me what are these ordering forces, I’d compare them to invisible forces like the wind, or the law of gravity. You can’t see gravity by itself, but you see its effect all around you. I mean you’ve just had a bottle of water in your hand, so if you drop the water, we all know what happens. There is no question about that. And same, once you have understood how the ordering forces work in organizations, you almost can’t stop seeing them at play, and putting them in there, in the picture, in everything what you see. And there are four forces we have identified in our research that hold particular relevance. One, starting simply, really is the force of time. There is a past, there’s a present, there’s a future. No one can escape the passing of time, whether that’s an individual, whether that’s an organization.
We all have history with good moments and bad moments. And if we are not careful and don’t deal with them in the right way, bad moments as well as good moments can linger on, and put a taint on the present, one way or the other, as well as the future, whilst yet not completely clear, can create a certain tension, a threat, or some actually looking forward to in the present moment, which can be, again, helpful or less so. So time is one of these blocks organizations don’t tend, necessarily, to look at methodically, but if overlooked, they can get in the way big time. For example, I’ve once worked with a team where the team leader was fairly new, and still struggled, despite a brilliant track record, to really get on board and get the team behind what they wanted to do. And actually that was the second or even third leader in a row that, after a short time, had been dismissed as not being up for the job.
In talking to the team and in investigating what had happened, it turned out that previously, the team had been headed by someone who was quite an erratic, difficult character, and there had been some hurtful movements in the team, which had never been properly attended to. So the new people coming in didn’t know of that, but they still had to play against and with that dark shadow still lingering to the present. So I’m aware that sometimes this sounds esoteric to people, but yet if you look into your own context and into your own organizations, you can often see how past things still have left marks on people’s behaviors, and how they are able to relate with new people. So that’s exactly what we described with this factor of time. Secondly, there is the force that we call place, which of course is obvious in organizations by org structures and hierarchies.
But the good question is, is this the only hierarchy that’s at play? Or are there, for example hierarchies like who knows the boss on a private level? Who has been around longer, either in age or in length of service? And these hierarchies can override each other, when it becomes quite complicated. Probably most listeners also have had encounters with a fairly young leader having a team of much older direct reports, which can cause friction because age is a natural hierarchy, which then gets overridden by the organizational hierarchy. So how do you resolve that? How do you attend to these things? How can someone who used to be a student in one organization come back to lead that organization? What does it take for him to be really accepted and seen as the new leader by the people who still see him as the student?
So that’s the area of place. The third force is the area of exchange. So the give and take that happens day in, day out, with a colleague I’m asking for a favor, with the organization who pays me my monthly salary. Do I think I’m rightly paid? And being overpaid is as hard to bear as being not paid enough. And equally, the sense of I owe someone, or I am owed by someone, can really put a difficult strain on the relationship when it’s not resolved one way or the other. Obviously it’s not tit for tat. Some things can’t be resolved. If an organization has to lay off a big part of their workforce, they have to lay a big part of their workforce to ensure survival for the rest of the employees. That’s a big sacrifice a small proportion, but significant proportion of people have to make on behalf of the others.
But the least organizations can do is give the people who have to leave the sense that they are seen, and their sacrifice is seen. It can be as simple as a thank you for what you’ve done, and thank you for now moving on so that we can carry on and do what we do here, whilst you will have to embark on new journeys. It’s a good example also, when mergers happen, and people are required to step into new organizational context without having the opportunity to say goodbye to the old one. It can become really difficult. So all these aspect of exchange are really important. And all these three forces, time, place, and exchange, feed into the one force we have found as the primal one. And that’s the one of belonging, the sense of being secure and safe within a group, being seen and being part of.
It’s a very human drive to try to be part of a group, to be seen. I mean, no human infant would basically reach adulthood if it’s not taken care of and looked after by other human beings. And that’s very deeply ingrained in us. The sense of whom am I loyal to, who is loyal to me, and how can I make sure this loyalty isn’t broken? Now, due to our numerous roles, father, mother, professional worker, freelance worker with a voluntary organization, sports team member, whatever, we all have a lot of affiliations that at times can get into conflict with each other. And particular in change in organizations, this force of belonging is put under great distress because people need to find a new belonging to a new organizational entity potentially, or find a new loyalty to a product group they haven’t been responsible before.
They also need to let go of old loyalties they had, with, let’s say, the customer base they were responsible for, and they won’t be in touch with any longer. And all these are aspects that, in my experience, hardly ever are systematically looked at in change. And yet if that’s done, and we could see that leaders who have… Whether they’ve taken care to educate themselves about it one way or another, or whether that’s just their good personal insight and from who they are. But leaders who attend to these forces have a significantly higher chance of being successful with the change they are leading.
Douglas: I love how you codify these down into the four distinct forces, and the belonging piece, I think, is one that a ton of people miss. And if they are thinking about a belonging, they’re not thinking about how belonging ends, which is what caught my eye about the Harvard paper, which is why I reached out. And the thing that really resonates with me is, that people are often experiencing a sense of grief when experiencing change. And if we’d label that as resistance, we’re completely in the wrong universe, as far as being able to help them, and move toward wherever we need to go.
Nicole: Absolutely, absolutely. The sense of loyalty that is so strongly protected is not resistance to the change, but change feels like a betrayal of that loyalty. And as we all know, betrayal causes very strong emotions, including shame, which isn’t an emotion people carry lightly. So therefore, what is seen as resistance can be the loyalty to something that was very strongly felt in the past. And to treasure that, and to acknowledge that is necessary in order to liberate from the loyalty. I mean, you can manage loyalty, in the sense of manage… Not switching a flick and then it’s all done, but manage in the sense of attending to, and making it discussable, and helping people to go through that phase of grief and say, “Yes, it was great, we were a great team. And now because of the restructuring, we may have to be on different teams, which doesn’t mean that we don’t play important roles for each other one way or the other, but the future will be different, and that’s needed from us for the greater good of the organization.” Yes.
Douglas: I love that. It reminds me of a metaphor I often come to, which is gardening, right? It’s not like organizing, or some of these very mechanical tasks like writing code or whatever, where we can put things in their place and turn it on and off. But it’s not mechanical engineering, it’s gardening. We have to nurture, we have to plant the seeds, and we got to create the conditions.
Nicole: Yeah. That actually is in my book, book in the metaphorical sense, in the Still Moving universe, how we define emergent change. It’s creating the condition for change to happen, but not making the change yourself, which then is what makes it so much more effort. Less if you get it right, because you don’t have to do it all by yourself, but you accept your limitations as a leader. But you still try to create the conditions for the change to emerge.
Douglas: So as we’re coming to an end here, I want to hit on two more things. One is, as you think about continuing this work, and if we’re really, really successful with everything you’re doing at Still Moving, and others like you, what do we create in the world?
Nicole: What this would enable us to do is to navigate the changes that are inevitable with less effort.
Douglas: That sounds nice. There’s so much struggle in the world, yeah?
Nicole: Exactly. I’m absolutely convinced that if we could bring this way of looking at change to as many people as possible, change would feel less effortful, less wasted resources. Less pain, also. Not without pain. Change is disruptive and always will be, but almost the sense of being held through the change, which in turn then enables people to be with the discomfort and uncertainty, which unfortunately I believe won’t go away for this world anytime soon. So as a species, if we could learn to live with the ambiguities, the discomfort, and the uncertainty better, this would enable us as species to find better solutions. Because we wouldn’t go in the fight, flight, freeze mode, but as humans be able to look deeper to find the most appropriate solution, and not the most natural, easy one that comes to mind first.
Douglas: Amazing. I love it. And you know, did such a great job of summarizing there. It may be difficult to extrapolate further, but I want to leave with my standard ending, which is love to give you an opportunity to leave our listeners with a final thought.
Nicole: Really, it’s this. It’s dare to stand still and look deeper, so you can create real movement rather than just busily going through the motions to end up where you started. So I’d really encourage people to give that a try. I know it sounds counterintuitive, and with all the pressures around it can be terribly hard. But really try to find the pause button, try to stand still and take into account a little bit of what we’ve discussed here maybe, or other things as well to get to a new place, a genuinely new place.
Douglas: I love that. You’ve got to tune into your system as well as the system in the organization. Amazing. Well Nicole, it’s been a pleasure chatting today. I really enjoyed hearing about the work that you’re doing, and super fascinated to continue to follow you. And I hope people check out your work at Still Moving, and can’t say enough good things. It was a total pleasure. Thank you.
Nicole: No, thank you. Pleasure all on my side, a privilege to be here. And yes indeed, if people get interested about us and Still Moving, I’d love that. But thanks for the opportunity again, Douglas.
Douglas: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want to know more, head over to our blog where I post weekly articles and resources about radical inclusion, team health and working better, voltagecontrol.com.