Embracing Reality—and Mud—Is Better than Fighting it

We just had a fabulous wedding weekend at a place Margie and I call our “Farm” near Skaneateles Lake in upstate New York. The Farm is a five-acre plot of land, mostly lawn, with a house and a few outbuildings where we store family cars, boats, and other equipment when we aren’t in town.

Because of the beautiful view and the peaceful setting, our granddaughter, Hannah, and her devoted partner, Beth, decided the Farm was the perfect spot for their wedding and reception.

On the East Coast, the greatest unknown for summer weddings is the weather. It had been raining in central New York for almost two straight weeks and the forecast was for a wet wedding day. Our son, Scott, and daughter-in-law, Madeleine, not only had warned 130 guests to seriously consider their footwear, they had filled a big basket with Old Navy flip-flops for people to use and take home.

But on the day of the wedding, as our two families were gathering for pictures before the ceremony, the rain amazingly stopped. The sun gradually came out from behind the clouds during the reception—and the organizers opened the flaps of the big tent. This motivated a number of wedding guests to take off their shoes, walk out into the sunshine, and dance on the muddy grass! They had a ball and the rest of us had a lot of fun watching them.

In Scott’s words, “We were concerned that all the mud would dampen the fun. Instead, it had the opposite effect. Once the band started, people not only dealt with the mud, they embraced it. The dance floor spread from the tent to the muddy lawn. The way our guests danced in the mud was a beautiful demonstration of how resilient people can be when they decide to embrace, rather than fight, the reality they find themselves in. We had been so worried about the mud ruining the wedding—and yet the opposite occurred. No one will forget it.”

When I offered the prayer earlier at dinner, I emphasized one of my favorite sayings, “Love is the answer—what is the question?” The reason I did it was clear: all the festivities around this wedding were about love. Watching our families come together in such a joyous way was heartwarming. And there’s nothing more endearing than two people feeling unconditional love and support from their family and friends as they say their wedding vows. What a wonderful way to begin a new life together.

Whatever the question, love is the answer. And a little mud doesn’t hurt!

Leading through a Seismic Shift

As the pandemic fades, people are returning to a new, hybrid workplace—where some are working from home and others are back in the office. To guide leaders through in this unfamiliar territory, our company has been offering a series of free, helpful webinars. You can sign up for them here.

Whether we want to admit it or not, our organizational cultures have changed over the last 15 months. The old rules no longer apply and the new rules, it seems, are up for grabs.

Harnessing the Power of Your Organizational Culture

In the new, hybrid work environment, how do leaders get the support of their employees and return to pre-pandemic levels of performance?

New York Times bestselling author Stan Slap provides lots of great ideas in the first webinar of our five-part series, “Back to Better: How to Return Your People, Purpose, and Performance.”

“This is not a physical relocation issue,” says Stan. “This is a cultural commitment issue.” Stan is a lively and entertaining guy, so it’s fun to watch him explain how leaders must work with the existing organizational culture to create predictability, energy, and a sense of belonging and relevance.

He also expresses the importance of the human connection: “Be a human first and a manager second.” Great advice!

Taking Advantage of a Rare Opportunity

In the second seminar in our Return to the Workplace Series, “Vision & Execution: Making the Most of an Opportunity to Change Your Organization,” Scott Blanchard makes an important point: this moment in time presents a rare opportunity for leaders to influence their organizations.

“Right now, return-to-work is a critical strategic mission for almost every company out there,” Scott says. He stresses that now is the time for leaders to step up.

“Leaders might be underleading the return to work,” he continues. “Our company’s research reveals that up to 75 percent of people report needing more direction from their leaders, not less.”

Scott points out that good things rarely happen by accident. “When good things are happening in an organization—from a Girl Scout troop all the way up to a nation state—it’s always a leader who is responsible for creating that positive momentum. And whenever things are not going well, the leadership of the organization is a part of that situation.”

Creating an Engaging Picture of the Future

The world has changed in the past year and a half, and your organizational vision and return-to-work strategy need to reflect that.

Scott stresses how important it is for leaders to take concrete steps and pivot to the future. “Peter Drucker said that the only things that happen naturally in organizations are inefficiency, friction, and political mayhem. This is especially true in an environment where things are changing.”

So, what is the solution to the potential chaos in your organization?

“Success requires a vision, a plan, and the tenacity to stick with the plan,” says Scott. “First, create an engaging picture of the post-pandemic future that excites people and inspires them about your mission. Next, help people see how their current roles and responsibilities connect to that vision.”

Leading Successful Change Requires High Involvement

Leaders cannot pull off successful change strategies without the support of their people. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to be other focused rather than self-focused. What do your people need to deliver on the vision and plan? What are their concerns? Are you listening to their feedback, including them in decision-making, and staying involved as the plan moves forward?

Research shows that top-down change—where leaders do little more than set the strategy—is often doomed to failure. Yet more than 80 percent of organizations still manage change from the top down.

An Epic Shift

Transitioning to the hybrid workplace “is an epic shift of millions of people,” Scott concludes. Now more than ever, your behavior as a leader matters. Your people want to know: “Does my leader have my back?” If the answer is no, they will become disengaged, and your strategy is likely to get derailed. If the answer is yes, this can be an exciting new chapter for you and your organization.

Learn More in Our July 7 and July 21 Webinars

What’s the best way to communicate in the new, hybrid workplace? How do you regain people’s trust and support? Find out in our next two complimentary webinars. To register, use this link: https://www.kenblanchard.com/Events-Workshops/Returning-to-Workplace-Series.

Celebrate Your People as They Come Back to the Workplace

It was a long time coming! When California dropped most of its COVID restrictions, our company decided to have a celebration at our corporate headquarters here in Escondido. We wanted to bring everybody—over 100 people—back together for three reasons:

  1. First and foremost, everyone, everywhere, has been through a pretty rough 15 months. We wanted to give our people an opportunity to get together, face to face, and see that it could be done in a fun and safe way. To respect everyone’s individual feeling of safety, we used a unique approach where each person wore a colored wristband that indicated their comfort level. Those who wanted to keep a six-foot social distance wore a red wristband. People who preferred an elbows-only distance wore yellow. And those of us who wore green bands were basically saying, “Come on in for a hug!”  
  2. We’ve made a lot of changes to our physical office areas during everyone’s work-from-home time, so we gave tours to anyone who asked. Our fabulous Campus Comeback Team—led by the one and only Shirley Bullard, our CAO—redesigned, remodeled, and redecorated most of our office spaces. We are so proud of our beautiful new open space designs where people can safely work together in person.
  3. There’s something about “breaking bread” together that brings out that real family atmosphere. Because everyone needs to eat, we hosted a made-to-order taco grill in the parking lot with beer and sodas for all and plenty of tables and chairs that made it easy to munch and mingle. It reminded us of the fun we’ve had together at past events and got us excited about today—and tomorrow.

Even though many of our people are not coming back to the office full-time, most will be back at least once or twice a week. Starting out our “new normal” with a successful, well-attended celebration was a great way to show everyone that our offices are back in business—even though everyone has been working harder than ever all this time. It’s okay to come back. It’s still the same place. Welcome!

So how is your organization bringing people back to the workplace? Make sure people feel welcome by bringing them back in a way that lets them know how important they are and how glad you are to see them again.

If you’re not yet sure how to tackle the challenges of bringing people back to your workplace, we have some great content for you to read and watch in our newly updated Returning to the Workplace Resource Center Stream. For even more information, catch our free Returning to the Workplace webinar series featuring luminaries like culture expert Stan Slap on employee culture and commitment; Craig Weber, author of Conversational Capacity, on candor and curiosity; Blanchard president Scott Blanchard on setting a vision and leading people through change, and trust expert Randy Conley on accelerating trust during times of change. Lots of free information you can use to help your organization make your people feel special!

Powerful Practices to Help You Adapt to Change: Part 1

If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that change pushes us out of our comfort zone. When the change is significant it can disrupt our peace of mind, making us defensive, close-minded, and anxious.

To thrive in an increasingly unpredictable world, we need to develop better responses to change and perhaps even learn to embrace it. Over the next couple of blogs, I’ll be focusing on four powerful practices that can help you adapt to change.

The First Powerful Practice: Mindfulness

We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. But what is it, exactly?

Mindfulness is making the choice to slow down and notice what you’re thinking and feeling—without judging your thoughts and feelings.

For example, suppose you’ve received news that your company is going to be reorganized and your department is going to be merged with another. For many people, this would trigger a negative feeling like fear or anxiety. It also might trigger some negative self-talk, such as, “Oh no, my job will probably be eliminated.” Notice that in this example, you have a negative feeling (fear/anxiety) followed by a negative judgment (“I’m going to lose my job.”) That’s a double negative!

A mindful approach to hearing about this change would be to pause, take a deep breath, and observe your feelings and thoughts.  Your self-talk might go something like this: “Oh look, I’m feeling fearful and anxious right now. Isn’t that interesting?”  You might notice the thought about losing your job, but you would recognize it as just that—a thought, not reality. You would not attach meaning to it. You would simply witness, rather than judge, these feelings and thoughts.

So, how does this witnessing consciousness help you deal with change? By becoming more aware of what is taking place—both inside and outside of yourself—you can respond to uncertainty with acceptance. Once you acknowledge and accept what is, you will be able to reframe your reaction to the change (“This could be an exciting opportunity”) and adapt more successfully to shifting conditions.

To get out of a reactive state and get into a state of mindfulness, take these steps:

  • Feel your feet on the ground or rub the palms of your hands together. The idea here is to bring you out of your feelings and thoughts and back into your body.
  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath, inhaling to the count of three (1, 2, 3).
  • Slowly exhale for twice as long, to the count of six (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
  • Repeat the inhalation/exhalation two more times.

You don’t need to be a yogi to practice mindfulness. For example, my granddaughter, Hannah, teaches music. She recently used the steps above to get a classroom of rowdy, eighth-grade boys to settle into learning and it worked like a charm. If eighth grade boys can become mindful, anybody can!

The Second Powerful Practice: Curiosity

Change takes us into unfamiliar territory, and not knowing increases our anxiety. What can you do to survive and thrive when you’re faced with the unknown? Research tells us that curiosity plays a fundamental role in successfully adapting to change.  In this context, here’s what we mean by curiosity:

Curiosity is a desire to seek information about a change to better understand it, reduce the fear of the unknown, and look for the opportunities it brings.

To stimulate your curiosity, start by asking: “What am I feeling? What am I thinking?” so you can make a choice about what you’re going to do instead of simply reacting to the change. Notice when you’re digging your heels in and thinking, “That’s it. This is horrible.” Take this opportunity to be curious and open-minded by asking, “Hmm, I wonder what’s possible now?

Cultivate curiosity about the change itself. Who is it affecting? What, exactly, is happening? When is it happening? Where is it happening? Gaining knowledge about a subject can often make it less daunting.

Get curious about solutions and positive responses. Who can help you and others with the change? What can you do to help? How might you think about this situation differently?

The story of hotel executive André van Hall is an uplifting example of how one man harnessed the power of curiosity to adapt to a frightening change. In 2011, André began to lose sight in one eye. Over the next several years, his condition progressed to near-total blindness. Rather than reacting by saying, “That’s it. My life is over,” André cultivated curiosity about his condition and began to ask questions. “How will I function as a blind man?” he wondered. “How will I get to work without driving a car? For that matter, how will I get my work done?”

André reached out for resources and advice. He discovered and embraced speech-based computer technology. He and his wife moved to Denver, so he could easily access Denver’s urban transportation system. He learned how to use a cane. He researched organizations that offer guide dogs and was matched with his beloved guide dog, Pelham. André—who now calls himself a Professional Speaker and Curiosity Instigator, sums it up this way: “Instead of simply continuing with life, my curiosity pushed me to flourish!”

By practicing mindfulness and curiosity, you can adapt to whatever changes life throws your way. Keep your eye on this space for Part 2 of this blog series, when I’ll discuss the other two powerful practices for adapting to change: courage and resilience.