New York was once again the alluring host to the best and the brightest of the industry who showed up on the first morning of our 20th anniversary conference with bells on after a warm and genteel evening of canapés and rooftop art deco drinks over the sweep of the iconic East River.

In the shifting sands of language travel, the ALTO board selected ‘change’ as the first item on the menu for the professional development conference. Tackling this theme was kickoff keynote speaker, Nick Tasler, internationally acclaimed thought leader, organisational psychologist, and an expert writer for the Harvard Business Review, Quartz, and Psychology Today and author of the new book, ‘Ricochet’. For ALTO, Nick took a look at guiding change from a personal angle in ‘What to Do When Change Happens to You’.

Read on for an in-depth recap of Nick’s talk, and if you are a member, please login to view the video recordings as well as a copy of Nick’s slides.

Change Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

Nick’s presentation took time to examine the common assertion that ‘change is hard’ – the implication always being negative and that organisations always imagine themselves undergoing an ‘unfreeze, change and re-freeze’ process, reaching a stage of completion.

The new notion that change is a constant state removes the ‘unfreeze’ and ‘refreeze’ and leaves us sloshing around in a permanent slush: uncomfortable, yes, but Nick points out that certain behaviours, techniques and strategies will allow us to faster adapt.

Try and Try Again

To examine this thinking, Nick challenged teams of eager beaver ALTO-ites to a game of who can build the tallest tower, distributing bags of irregularly shaped blocks. Teams raced against time, using creativity to build and rebuild until they felt satisfied of having done their best. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, then glasses of water had to be incorporated, and hence onlooker advice came thick and fast, trying and retrying as the game raced to a deadline.

Leaders, advisors, strategists, technicians – all of these personalities emerged, pitted in a bid to reach a common goal within the deadline. Try, fail and retry bounced like water off the beavers’ backs as they scurried towards success.

The conclusions? Work happened, one decision at a time. The faster, more strategically and decisively the group worked, the sooner the beavers got where they wanted to go.

Sooner or later we will all successfully adapt. ‘Successful adaptation to change is a rule of human existence rather than an exception’, said Nick.

Your Response is the Key

Nick further pointed out that even after submission to extreme change; our freedom to decide how we will respond to that change is the last of all human freedoms. When we see and focus on our ability to shape the future, we avoid the experience of anger, frustration and despair over our inability to control our circumstances.

In business, knowing and deciding how to handle change is key. Nick pointed out that many leaders stumble with change as they largely fear talking about challenges that they don’t have answers for. However there are a few key tips to keep in mind:

  • Be transparent – don’t try to hide or cloud over change.
  • Involve your team in decision making.
  • Find team members who can be on board with change – this will allow senior managers to go out and build a group of proselytizers.
  • Use data to build confidence.
  • Let teams know that change will be constant – this will keep them primed for battle.

It’s crucial to have the right attitude towards change. Hold a ‘decisive’ mindset as opposed to a ‘passenger’ mindset. Nick said that success amid change relies on our ability to make decisions and to keep ‘righting’ decisions along the way and ditching bad ones.

A Framework to Action Change

Establishing a simple, flexible Know-Think-Do framework can enable leaders and their teams to immediately start making these fast and ‘roughly right’ decisions. To paraphrase Einstein, this framework is “as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

1. KNOW the ultimate business objective. Is it to cut costs? Is it to retain your place as the value brand option in the market? In times of change, some things should not change. What is it that we do that is extremely valuable to our customers and how expensive is it for us to maintain this position?

Managing our impact versus effort is key to re-establishing our #1 priority or our DECISION PULSE. The biggest hurdle to fast and ‘roughly right’ decisions is criteria overload. Of all the possible stakeholders, which one do you least want to disappoint, and what is the objective they care most about? Saving your business through change involves advocating for your customer and keeping focused in all situations.

2. THINK rationally about how your options align with the ultimate objective. The vast majority of judgment errors can be eliminated simply by broadening our frame of reference. The quickest, easiest, most effective way to do this is by consulting an “Anti-You” before you make every decision.

The Anti-You is the person who will expose your blind spots. As one banking executive explained, “It’s amazing how many poor decisions can be avoided simply by asking one other person for their opinion.” Consulting an Anti-You works in two ways. The act of explaining your situation to another person often gives you new insights about the decision before the other person even responds. And the fresh perspective they offer in response is the second bonus.

3. DO something with that knowledge and those thoughts. Be a driver. Say out loud: “I am a driver.” Put it up in your office and say it a few times a day.

Focus. Focus. Focus.

Once of the biggest traps we fall into when leading change is trying to do it all at once. As the visual below shows, it’s normal to feel pulled in many directions.

After you’ve clearly defined the primary strategic objectives and laid out your research and thinking with one or two key ‘Anti-You’s’, it’s time to call it quits on all of the planning, strategising, number-crunching, and critical thinking. You simply must select ONE option while letting go of all the other “good” options. “Perfect” options are a myth.

That said, if you’re going to risk the farm on something, you’d better make sure it falls within your decision pulse (aka your strengths). No amount of deliberation can ever guarantee that you have identified the “right” option. The purpose of a decision is not to find the perfect option. “The purpose of a decision is to get you to the next decision”.

The purpose of a decision is not to find the perfect option. The purpose of a decision is to get you to the next decision.

As the next visual shows, making your first decision will enable you to make more, which eventually produces positive change:

Leading effective change is all about making fast and focused decisions. A “fast and good enough” decision might mean a two-week process for the leaders at a Fortune 500 bank to decide how to remain competitive while also being compliant with a new government regulation. Alternately “fast and good enough” might mean no more than 20-30 minutes for sales managers at the same bank’s business lending team in Chicago trying to make a customer account decision.

Regardless of where you are or how big you are, the KNOW-THINK-DO framework enables all corners depicted in an org chart to share a common language and approach for making sound, timely decisions through change. Knowing we have the ability to shape events through focused and timely decision-making – again and again – plus choosing what not to do will keep everyone focused on priorities and primed for the constant status of change. So, as Nick tells us, ‘Get started!’

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Leaders and Managers Double Event in London, England
Monday, 3 September 2018

AGM and CPD Event in Berlin, Germany
Sunday, 4 November 2018

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