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Change Management

How to Get Out of a Straight Jacket

Your key project: It’s too important to fail.

Yet nothing has happened on it for months. Every move you try seems fruitless.

You’re stuck. It’s like being in a straightjacket.

Identifying the specific challenge and knowing how to proceed is three-quarters of making forward progress. Use this tool to free up the resistance in your relationships, the clogged sinks on your to-do list, and traffic jams in your work-flow. Use these questions to discover the source of your difficulties, remove the straightjacket, and move to fast-forward.

1. Is the outcome truly desired?

Yes, No--Select a new goal.

Desirable: On occasion, we get stuck because we’re ambiguous about the outcome and its implications. Are you ready to listen to, for instance, what donors really think about of your organization?

2. Is the outcome realistic?

Yes, No--Redesign the goal.

Has the goal been done before in your nonprofit? Has it has been done more than once elsewhere in a similar setting?

3. Do you understand the actions necessary to create the outcome?

Yes, No--Determine required actions. Scope the engagement to determine 

If its been done before, the how can be discovered. The process may not be as easy at it looks. Investigate it carefully. Was it really just a matter of asking for help?

4. Do the people assigned possess the skills needed to execute them?

Yes, No--Teach the skills or obtain new personnel. 

Polished skills require know-how, practice, and in-the-field experience. Teach know-how and practice. Assign in-the-field experience.

5. Do the people assigned understand their responsibility and the actions necessary?

Yes, No--Responsibility: You pass the ball. The receivers understand they need to catch it. Clarify responsibilities. Assign progress deadlines.

6. Do the people assigned have time?

Yes, No--Re-assign priorities. Teach time management. Time constraints can arise from the organization’s structure or generated by the individual. Lack of time often receives the blame even though it’s often not the only culprit.

7. Do the people assigned take action?

Yes, No--Add rewards. Remove disincentives. Change personnel, if necessary.

Work with people who can be motivated. “Can they do it if a gun is pointed at their head?”

8. Do the actions provide anticipated outcomes?

Yes, No--Do analysis. Tweak the process. Remove discovered barriers and, if outcomes still fail, return to #3. You will find some solutions fail for reasons that become clear only in hindsight, such as designing a airplane satellite message system that can be manually turned-off. In other words, you can’t learn if it will really work for you until you do it.  

9. Do the actions provide the maximum results?

Yes, No--Conduct analysis. Study the excellence of others. Find synergies. Abandon if the opportunity costs remain higher than other options. Continue to work with these questions as a continuous loop to create speedy resolution and maximize results on your key project.

One of the most frustrating experiences of our working lives is being stuck and not knowing what wraps us in the straitjacket. Consider one important area in your work where you’re stuck. Use this decision tree to help you get your arms over your head so you can remove all the constraints that hold you back.

P.S. For fun, watch this one-minute video, Straight Jacket Escape. One of the keys to successfully getting out of a straight jacket is to make yourself as large as possible as you are being put in it. In life, therefore, breathe deeply and know that whatever comes your way, straightjacket or not, you can get unstuck. 



Changing a Negative Mindset and Culture

Culture Change

I’ve learned over the past thirty years that my most effective executive coaching leadership clients know the “why” of what they are passionate in achieving. They get excited in my office telling me inspiring stories of their hopes and struggles. They have a growth versus fixed mindset, and are optimistic and forward thinking.

One of my executive coaching clients shared a personal story with me that he was struggling to convince several of their senior executives on changing their company culture. The data from a recent company engagement survey indicated that far too many employees were not engaged with the mission and vision of the company. It was as if the big egos in the room were locked in a battle of who was right and blaming the others for perceived failures.

I asked him “What happens or behaviors do you observe now and what would you like to see in the future?” He responded, “I tolerate behaviors that don’t contribute to growth”. He confessed experiencing some shame at this self-realization. I suggested that he first work on becoming aware of his own habits and patterns of behavior. He then would model the new desired behavior.

At our next meeting, he reported that he interrupted the pattern of a battle of egos and got everyone’s focused attention. The members of the executive team thought that if he was so passionate about his belief in creating a new culture that they began to pay attention to their own habits and patterns of behavior that were counterproductive to creating a high performance culture.

At an off site Retreat that I facilitated, leaders at all levels of the company co-created a Values Statement that reflected the aspirations of everyone aligned towards a common goal. Values drive commitment. The energy at work was beginning to shift, and people reported being happier and more committed to achieving business results through passionate collaboration.

Emotionally intelligent leaders know that creating a positive workplace culture and climate where emotions are appropriately expressed increases engagement and moves things forward.  In order for people to be fully engaged, they need to feel they are following leaders who inspire them emotionally. Engagement is most influenced by how their leaders behave.

The Brain Power of Negativity

In Switch (2010), authors Dan and Chip Heath write about “finding the bright spots” in our work and lives.After extensive research, the two business school professors have documented myriad cases that prove how hard it is to overcome negativity’s pull.

In one study, for example, scientists analyzed 558 words in the English language that denote emotions, and they found that 62% were negative (versus the 38% positive).

Across the board, no matter the situation or domain, we are wired to focus on bad over good.

·  Example A: People who were shown photos of good and bad events spent more time  viewing the latter.

·  Example B: When people hear something bad about someone else, they pay more attention to it, reflect on it more, remember it longer and weigh it more when assessing that person. This tendency is called “positive-negative asymmetry.”

·  Example C: A researcher reviewed 17 studies of how people interpret and explain events in their lives, such as how fans interpret sporting events or how students describe their days in a journal. Across multiple domains — work, politics, sports, relationships — people were more likely to spontaneously bring up negative versus positive events.

“Bad is stronger than good,” the Heaths conclude. It’s no wonder performance reviews and feedback are usually aimed at what’s not working. Yet, individuals can override this brain tendency and focus on the positive, at least enough to create successful relationships both at work and home.

John Gottman, a psychologist who studies extensive marital conversations, finds that couples who sustain long-term marriages use language that reflects five times more positive statements than negative ones. In fact, he calls this “the magic ratio” and claims it will accurately predict if a marriage will last.

He urges managers to use a ratio of 5:1 positive statements in conversations with employees.Ask yourself: “What percentage of time do I spend solving problems in relation to the time I spend scaling successes?”

Given the advantages of a solution mindset, it’s surprising that more managers fail to gain a foothold in this managerial style.Remember: You can’t give praise and recognition if you see only the negative and focus on what’s broken.

High Cost of Negativity

1. Ninety percent of doctor visits are stress related, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2. A study found that negative employees can scare off every customer they speak with—for good (Rath, 2004).

3. At work, too many negative interactions compared to positive interactions can decrease the productivity of a team, according to Barbara Fredrickson’s research at the University of Michigan.

4. Negativity affects the morale, performance, and productivity of our teams.

5. One negative person can create a miserable office environment for everyone else.

6. Robert Cross’s research at the University of Virginia demonstrates that 90 percent of anxiety at work is created by 5 percent of one’s network—the people who sap energy.

7. Negative emotions are associated with decreased life span and longevity.

8. Negative emotions increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

9. Negativity is associated with greater stress, less energy, and more pain.

10. Negative people have fewer friends.

You can overcome a negative mindset and develop more positivity by working with an executive coach.The investment is well worth the reward: your ability to influence the future, your career and your personal-development capabilities.

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put positive leadership into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need tobe more positive? Positive leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a positive leader who helps individuals and organizations achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders develop more positive teams.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help leaders nurture positivity in the workplace. You can become a more positive leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping Innovative Companies and Law Firms Assess, Select, Coach, Engage and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Executive Coaching; Leadership Development; Performance-Based Interviewing; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; Culture Change; Career Coaching and Leadership Retreats

...About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach|
Trusted Advisor to Executive Leadership Teams
Mindfulness & Emotional Intelligence Workplace Expert

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

“Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in his work with senior executives and upper level managers, and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom, energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching

For more information, please go to, write to, or call 415-546-1252.

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I recall the first time I suspended an employee. A hand written letter, which I provided to the employee, was thrown back in my face. At that moment emotions were high, but once the employee returned to work following their suspension, their behavior (and our relationship) changed for the better. We had to work through emotion and conflict in order to move the employees attitude and performance to a new level.


Today I spend most of my time managing amidst conflict, emotion, and discomfort. Not a comfortable place for most, but a highly valuable place if you want to instantiate significant and meaningful change. These emotions naturally occur during many of the group sessions that I facilitate, and when they don't exist, I know that something is wrong. 



Passion, anger, and frustration first present themselves when individual beliefs, ideas or "sacred cow's" are challenged. Invariably however, the existence of conflict and emotion serve as a tipping point, without which substantiated change cannot (and will not) exist.


When trying to initiate and sustain changes with your company or team, consider that emotion is actually a sign of passion; of desire; of devotion and as such must be dealt with directly. Attempting to avoid or ignore these emotions will only serve to delay or derail your intent. 


Consider some of the significant changes that you want to introduce which will require acceptance and adoption by your employees. The matrix below will provide you a method to measure progress as you inch closer to a more positive and collaborative outcome. 








I've consistently found, amongst the most successful business owners, CEO's, and Vice Presidents, a strong tendency towards taking action. A logical discourse when you consider that actions precede results. This tendency however can lead to frustration when it becomes necessary to engage employees, suppliers, or customers in achieving a similar mindset.


Helping others to recognize the purpose and sense of urgency behind necessary changes can be tenuous, but is absolutely crucial if you are ever to achieve successful and sustained change.


In fact I'll admit that it may seem counter intuitive, but in order to engage others in change, you need to slow down in order to speed up.


Fortunately I've found that you can bring an equilibrium to create a more successful approach to change by considering and addressing the following questions:


  • Why is a change necessary right now?
  • What options have you identified that need to be considered?
  • What options does the employee have that you might not have considered?
  • How will this change support the individual? The organization?
  • What might the implications be to the individual if this change is not addressed?


What organizational changes have you been considering that are a priority for moving the business forward? Consider applying the questions above to broaden your perspective and to create strong levels of engagement and I think you'll find more rapid adoption of change along with improved employee morale.


Do you have situations in which you need to engage your leadership team or employees in adopting? Send me an email or give me a call and let me help you quickly formulate your approach.



My father-in-law spent his entire career as a dairy farmer. My wife, having been raised on a farm, would constantly remind me that when milking the most important thing was to approach the cow slowly, so as not to startle it. I found it interesting that cows were extremely sensitive to any unusual movement or change in their schedule, yet didn’t seem to mind having several small stainless steel tubes all yielding a significant amount of suction, stuck to their udders. According to my father-in-lay, the reason this seemingly unpleasant experience did not bother the cattle is because they are quickly acclimatized, becoming accustomed to the prodding, poking, and other intrusions that are the natural part of the milking process.

Humans, like cows and other species roaming the earth, are creatures of habit. We can adapt to even the most uncomfortable environments because we become accustomed to them. They become our new normal. Interestingly, despite the lack of logic and discomfort that our present norm may provide, we perceive anything that threatens to change this norm, on a personal or organizational level, as undesirable. We will even fight to avoid the change regardless of logic.

The key to introducing and managing change is to recognize that despite the lack of desire to change, the objective is to form a new norm, one that others will in time become accustomed too and comfortable with. Simple in concept, but an approach that takes time, patience and a bit of tenacity. Hence why most change initiatives change. We seek a quick and painless approach.
How can you approach change to formulate a new norm but not startle others in your approach? If you factor this simple concept into your planning, your new desired norm will evolve faster than you expect.



As a kid, I remember having snow on Halloween. With rare exception, we now don’t receive snow until late November and more likely into December. Regardless of theories on why this is, the reality is that I can either adapt to this shift in weather pattern, or I can spend time struggling with the question of why. Why is the fall season lasting longer? Why is winter shorter? Why are temperature fluctuations more dramatic then they once were?

Fortunately or possibly unfortunately I’m not a theorist, but I am a pragmatist. I've learned that what’s in my best interest is not to devote any significant time to analyzing why something occurred, but rather focus my energy on adapting and responding. Because the snow arrives later in the year, I put my snow tires on in late November; I put our outside furnishings away after Thanksgiving instead of labor day. You get the picture.
The state of analysis paralysis appears to be where many businesses are stuck today. Orders aren’t as strong as they once were; customer loyalty is not the same as it once was; sales cycles are longer; customers operate with a boom or bust mentality; customers want more value for less money. These are challenges that all of my clients and colleagues face. Here’s the problem. We invest too much time in thinking about why these changes have occurred, and not enough time taking action and testing new approaches to the market to adapt and respond.
We need to take action on new strategies if we are ever to overcome this state. Traditional sales pipelines have dried up? Take a look at social media, crowd sourcing, and other online media approaches to generate leads. Employees aren’t as motivated to travel and visit prospective customers? Shift to regional representation to reduce travel and place focus on target or high potential territories. Leadership is wary about making a significant investment in the business? Look at alternative approaches to attaining capital or short-term lease or rental strategies to avoid long-term commitments.
The reality we face is the reality we face. The only thing that remains within our control is how we respond. We can take action and test the waters, or we can ponder why these things have changed in hopes of finding that golden nugget idea. I’m a fan of action because momentum precludes results. So the next time you find yourself in a meeting talking about why changes have occurred, shift your focus to how you can alter your approach to introduce or capture new opportunity.
Simply put, actions speak louder than words.


Change is not the challenge

It’s rudimentary to think that we are unable to adapt to change. We embrace change each and every day so long as we can see the benefit. I purchased a new iPhone 5S because the technology makes my iPhone 3S seem like a rotary dial telephone; standing in line at the bank no longer seems necessary; wandering a mall aimlessly in search of Christmas gifts (no I haven’t started shopping yet) is a waste of time. Although these may seem like very simple examples of change to which we have become accustomed, consider some of the more predominant changes that have occurred during the past decade such as hybrid vehicles, bicycle sharing programs and crowd-sourcing.
No it’s not a challenge for us to adapt to change, it’s determining which changes we want to adapt too. Where should we focus our energy, attention and resources in order to improve our lives?
This same question exists when we consider influencing change in our business. As a business owner or executive we must decide what changes will have the most significant impact on the success of the business, and more importantly, how to engage our employees in adapting to this change. I recently worked with an organization in which the CEO felt he had an employee engagement problem. After some preliminary investigation it became apparent that engagement was not the problem, it was the lack of priorities that resulted in culture confusion. Each and every senior manager was assertively pursuing their own strategic objectives, resulting in a multitude of disjointed programs polluting the company communications. The result was analysis paralysis. There was so much information that employees were unsure of which to pursue. The HR Vice President was focused on employee recognition and rewards; the Vice President of Engineering was focused on policy compliance and improved process efficiency; the Supply Chain Vice President was focused on cost savings; and on it goes. All of this created the perception that the employees were unwilling to change. By focusing on fewer organizational objectives and positioning the objectives in a manner that employees could embrace, the velocity and results of change were realized.
If you want to engage employees and drive significant change, focus on fewer strategic objectives, positioning them in a manner that employees can connect with. There will be greater clarity and alignment across the business, delivering your desired results with greater velocity.
So don’t get caught up in the old adage that employees are unable to adapt to change; consider instead the focus and objectives of your organization and remember that the fewer the objectives the easier it is to engage employees and achieve results.


There is Nothing New Under the Sun

It has been a strange spring to say the least, with temperatures hovering well below seasonal (I don't consider a low of -3 degrees C (26 degrees Fahrenheit) to be remotely close to spring time weather, but that's just me). It would appear that we have completely missed spring somewhere along the way. Most people I have run into are abuzz about the weather, wondering what environmental factors are driving these extremely low seasonal temperatures, yet if we think back to let's say ten years ago, weren't these lower temperatures more the norm this time of year? I mean, it's not as if we have never experienced such a cold spring. Yet it would appear that many have forgotten this, or possibly they have just become spoiled by global warming...
Changes in weather, like changes in business, are cyclical, resurfacing at unusual times and often in a different form, making them appear to be something never before experienced. From a business perspective, consider for example that manufacturing is returning to North America where automation can be introduced to reduce the high cost of labor; and in our high tech world, consumers are showing preference in returning to products and companies that offer a high-touch service.
The reality is that most of the changes we experience either personally or in business have been experienced by someone, somewhere at sometime. Understanding this helps us to place external change into context, allowing for a systematic and proactive approach to managing the change, rather than a reactionary one.
When changes in your external environment are looming, consider the following questions to place the circumstance into context, and to determine the best means to managing the change:
1.     Where might this change have occurred in the past? What industry, sector, or geographical region is most likely to have experienced something similar?

2.     What parallels can be drawn between this current event and historical events? What are the common attributes that may provide insight into potential solutions?

3.     What solutions have been implemented by others to adapt to these changes? How might these solutions be integrated into your industry or business?
There really is little new under the sun. When unanticipated change presents itself, it is no time to panic. Start by identifying where similar circumstances have presented themselves in the past, and determine what lessons you can derive that can be applied to your situation.

© Shawn Casemore 2013. All rights reserved.


The Three "A's" of Change

I spent some time last week working with a client in Calgary. I have made several trips to Calgary as of late and I am noticing a shift in the enthusiasm of business owners, particularly those who support the oil and gas industry. Of those with whom I have spoken, many are concerned about the impact of the new oil reserves in the United States and what impact this might have on Canada as we export a significant portion of our oil to our closest neighbor.
You know, it is virtually impossible to avoid change in today's market. Just ask those that manage stocks for a living. There is no such thing as a "safe" investment anymore. Think about how this has impacted us personally. If you rushed out to buy a blue ray disc player, you're likely considering NetFlix right about now; if you were the first to purchase an iPad, it’s likely that the new iPad mini is beginning to look appealing.
Some of my best clients are those who consistently anticipate change. In fact, many of them actually seek out change in an attempt to create a competitive advantage. Here are some of the questions they consider to help them stay at the bleeding edge of change:

  • What would happen if your largest or most significant client disappeared?
  • What if your regional, national or international sales opportunities dried up overnight?
  • What would happen if your customers demanded online order capabilities?
  • What would happen if your star employee(s) left?
  • How would you respond to a tax audit?
  • How would you adapt to a transformation of the technology that supports your business?
  • How would you adapt to a new, larger competitor entered your marketplace?

When considering these questions, I want to suggest to you that in order to effectively manage change you need to consistently employ the Three "A's" of Change.

  1. Acknowledge that change is a constant; that initiating change is a more manageable approach than reacting to change that we are dealt.
  2. Absolve to identify and respond to change as quickly and effectively as possible. Procrastination is a killer when it comes to finding a means to manage change.
  3. Adapt quickly to change, whether it is dealt to you, or self initiated. Developing an attitude and in turn a culture that adapts quickly to change is the foundation for creating competitive advantage.

The only thing that we can reasonably predict today is that something will change tomorrow. It's not a matter of when change will impact me, but how it will impact me. So how will you manage the next change that arises? Will you acknowledge, absolve and adapt, or simply react and respond? Which sounds like a more proactive approach to you?


The “Science” of Workplace Communication & Performance Management


When I was in school I did virtually anything I could to avoid science classes. For some reason they didn’t interest me and bored me to death.

The interesting thing was as a young boy I was totally enamored with astronauts and the United States efforts to put men on the moon and return them safely to earth. I loved the Apollo space program. Yet, I couldn’t make the leap to the science and engineering to make it all happen. Somewhere there was a disconnect.

In college, my communications degree program required only 10 credit hours of math and natural sciences which I focused on the basic math classes of algebra and calculus with one class of astronomy for non-majors.

What does any of this have to do with the work I do know helping improve leadership and workplace communication, you may be asking?

Well, here’s what…

In facilitating a recent client session where we were flushing out some “communication” issues between team members I blurted out the comment that “every human communication is going to have some type of reaction in the person to whom we are communicating.”

In that moment, I realized it was similar to Newton’s third law of physics, “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

Similar, but with one big difference.

Often, reactions to communication are not always “equal and opposite.” Nor should we want them to be.

Most times we want the reaction to our communication to be affirming, not opposite. Often, though, we do get the opposite reaction to what we were hoping for. That is where influencing communication skills come in handy.

You’ve probably also had the experience where the reaction to a communication was not only opposite but also unequal. By that I mean someone makes a request, inquiry or statement in a calm, respectful manner and receives an emotional outburst as a reaction that is totally inappropriate and uncalled for.

Similarly, arguments often escalate because each person does react equally to the other’s emotional intensity with a reaction that is not affirming but opposite from what they would like it to be, and the conflict ensues.

These are just some thoughts to build our communication skills that have been coming to me more since raising the issue in last week’s article calling for people to be more “conscious” when they communicate, instead of communicating with their default habits.

’til next time, let me know what you think and leave a comment below. Make it a great week!

P.S. – don’t forget to join me this Thursday, May 17th at 12noon Eastern time for my newest webinar Leadership for the Small Business: Avoiding the 5 Critical Mistakes that Kill Productivity & Profits – click this link to learn more and register, it’s FREE!



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