For the last couple of years I’ve had the benefit of providing one on one Coaching to the employees of an extremely large organization with an extensive global and national reach.   The Org is mighty and yet as many industries are, experiencing the need to reinvent itself in order to thrive during these economic times.  There are so many books written on “how to” effect cultural change – did I mention… so many?!  There are processes and strategies, charts, maps and training but very little written on the human experience and consequence of effecting and being at the effect of massive shift.  And so, I thought I’d share a little about what it is actually like to be in the trenches of this amazing experience, partnering with employees, incredibly committed, courageous human beings as they strive to be effective and efficient leaders during transition. The journey with them is and continues to be fascinating, challenging and heart warming all at the same time.

I’m using the metaphor “trenches” on purpose. At times the individuals I have worked with have likened the experience to a battle. The only sure thing in this battle is that their environment changing almost daily has become the new normal. Who they led yesterday may not be who they lead today nor two weeks from now. They’ve had to become comfortable with the discomfort of constant change. Like battle, cultural shift or change is not for the faint of heart.

We all have our individual reactions to change. We all do change differently. Some of us can sustain change for long periods of time others need to know it will be short in duration.  Some of us embrace change, others become unsure, fearful. “Will I be enough to survive this change? Will my skills be relevant after the change? How can I adapt my skills and experience in order to contribute? What kind of leader do I need to be now in order to thrive in this environment? And while we’re at it… can you support me to understand this new environment? I can’t quite articulate what I’m experiencing, I just know that what I knew yesterday is no longer serving me and I’m scared.”

A surprising find in all of this has been the discovery of common threads of behavior among those I’ve worked with. Each individual expressed the need for an articulated clear vision and reassurance. In all cases there was a resounding desire to align. Unless they had a clear articulated vision they didn’t know how to align and as a result, they experienced being unable to contribute their strengths.  Resoundingly, this fact created more heartbreak than the threat of a lay off and/or termination. Even communicating, “We are in the midst of great change and transition, the experience may create overwhelm, stress, confusion.  We acknowledge your willingness to stay the course, we appreciate your loyalty and your willingness to continue in your job… “, as simple as that sounds, would have normalized the situation for them. In each case, the same question was asked of me, “Am I the only one experiencing what I’m experiencing or are others feeling the same as me?”  Each one needed to know that he/she was not alone.  This drove home for me the need for an org to communicate frequently and directly, to pay more attention to the human beings during this change.  Blanket emails and/or announcements only go so far. I have it that it has to be more than that. Like any well loved and decorated general, during these times, it is imperative to get out from behind the boardroom tables to be with the people in the front lines, in the trenches of this change.  After all,  an organization’s culture IS it’s people, their way of being, their language and actions which when combined, forms the overarching organization’s way of being and/or culture.

Stay tuned for more from the trenches… in my next post I will cover “good gossip” and “shedding the skin of the old culture”.