Keep Your Sanity. Embrace Change.

Keep Your Sanity. Embrace Change.

While that may sound like a bumper sticker or marketing campaign, it is in reality a mantra I have repeated to myself over, and over, and over again . . . throughout my experience as a leader, and life in general.

Those familiar with the Tall Tim Story can appreciate the sentiment. Mine has been a career path of constant discovery, mandating a healthy relationship with the rollercoaster process Webster’s defines as “the act of making or becoming different”.

Well, when you put it that way.

Change within an organization is nothing short of essential to its survival. No need to go back decades or years . . . just consider the past nine months. Businesses large and small are scrambling to adjust to changes brought about by the pandemic. While clarity will overcome chaos and confusion, there is no denying every operation is “making or becoming different”.

Our state of emergency aside, strategic changes to an operation’s structure, processes, or culture must be considered carefully, with due diligence to their impact beyond the most immediate application. Change is complex, and may or may not become more manageable by breaking it down into smaller groups . . . which is a great place to begin our discussion.

We’ll go back in time to one summer that for me was the Perfect Storm of Change. My role had changed dramatically, the organization was introducing landmark changes, and my Discipline . . . Human Resources, perhaps the most conservative next to Finance & Accounting . . . would be faced with a cultural change that would rock their world.

Personal Change

The Position

I had found my freedom.

The position of Performance Development Manager (PDM) was created as part of the organization’s refined Talent Management Strategy. Learning professionals were assigned to Markets, in which they would facilitate New Hire Orientation, Service Training, and other corporate-mandated learning activities for hotels within their scope.

There was little guidance in the early days, beyond a quick gathering of Regional PDMs to review basic expectations. So, I began to view my new role through a lens of innovation and creativity. I was eager to use my voice, to express my thoughts and perspectives on leadership, service execution, and personal development. It was time to bring the Tall Tim Story to a wider audience.

I carried this excitement and enthusiasm into the National Human Resources Conference held in Philadelphia later that spring. The Opening Reception was a joy, interacting with my new-found peers from the world of Learning & Development.

I surmised we were like the Jedi, a small group dedicated to protecting the culture of the organization against dark forces. Oh, I had big plans . . .

The next morning, we separated into smaller groups for break-out sessions that would deliver the take-away content of the Conference. What they delivered for me was a shocking dose of reality.

For two days, we listened to presentations detailing a redefined Talent Management Strategy. Operational Leaders were to have complete authority and responsibility to manage their teams . . . talent selection, hiring, discipline, performance reviews, separation . . . everything would be at their fingertips.

This was huge for an organization that prided itself on a strong, property-based Human Resources (HR) presence, who considered those activities sacred, a proprietary rite bestowed once the ink dried on your Offer Letter.

At the end of the conference, we received packets containing our training materials. The expectation was for attendees to train every Manager in the organization on this new process prior to the ‘Go Live’ date of July 16th . . . less than three months away.

On the flight home I began to review the training materials. The Powerpoint presentation was 306 slides long. The facilitator’s guide was as thick as War and Peace. My jaw dropped in shock and disbelief. “How in the world . . . ?” That’s as far as I got with that question, there was so much to process. Plus, my calendar was already populated with other programs that I had developed. How would it all fit?

It was at that point that reality set in. I had planned to use my voice as a vehicle for personal expression. The expectation of my new position was to use that voice in support of a much broader agenda.

Sometimes that spirit of independence is tough to overcome.

The Presentation

Equipped with a refined perspective, I set out to embrace this new, albeit humongous challenge by employing my typical “How, What and Where” approach to a learning activity . . . How is it organized? What are the Key Takeaways? and Where can I add a little of the Tall Tim Mojo?

While the standard presentation contained a brief mention of Change, I felt it important to dedicate more focus and discussion around the process involved, to share the value behind the Change.

People will more readily adapt to change once they understand the “Why?”, the motivation behind an action.   

So, I incorporated a clip from “Miracle”, the movie about the Gold Medal winning 1980 Olympic U.S. Men’s Hockey Team, starring Kurt Russell in role of Coach Herb Brooks.

The scene features Coach Brooks interviewing with Executives from the United States Olympic Committee. It fit the moment perfectly . . . Coach Brooks was calling for changes to practice scheduling and strategy, the Committee was skeptical.

Feelings and emotions expressed in that brief dialogue mirrored those experienced by our Managers. Where will we find the time? Who’s going to pay for this? What makes you think this will work? All very real, legitimate concerns that when approached with the proper intention, lend themselves to resolution through collaboration.

Once I had my game plan set, I studied the presentation . . . and studied, and studied, and studied some more.

The first two sessions were at my previous home property . . . your best critic is the one you have in your back pocket. I was transparent with the group, establishing an immediate Empathic Perspective for the magnitude of change involved, and reassuring them I would remain wide-open and receptive to feedback.

Overall, the groups admitted the concept would most likely remain blurry until the system went live. They were grateful for the opportunity to discuss Change . . . to realize their reactions were following a natural progression of Awareness, Acceptance, and Awakening.

From there, the Race to Compliance was on. I powered through 36 sessions, building confidence with each one. Feedback from one session was rolled into the next, working to enhance the overall learning experience. Word spread that our sessions were being well received, so I was asked to travel outside of my Market to support hotels throughout the region.

What began as a haze-filled cloud of confusion had transformed into a topic in which I was considered a Subject Matter Expert. Scary in that while I had mastered the presentation, and incorporated dialogue around Change, I was not connected in any way to the actual development of the program software. Dangerous territory.

It turned into a breakthrough period for me. I had survived the first challenge and emerged with greater clarity for how my talents would thrive in my new role.

Those other classes I had developed? They would eventually fit into the rotation . . . time and a place for everything.

Operational Leaders

There was one, undeniable truth that emerged from this process . . . Operational Leaders are resilient.

The group, who most had anticipated being resistant to Change, performed beyond expectations. Of course, there was the initial reaction, working through the emotions of having even more responsibility added to their plate. Just human nature, a predictable aspect of Change Management.

Fact is, if you assign a talented Operation Leader a task, tell them what’s expected and when it needs to be done, give them time to schedule and prepare . . . they will work almost anything into their daily routines.

That’s what happened with the new Talent Management Strategy. Once the reasons behind the change were made clear, most everyone took it in stride.

Human Resources

Picture a parent dropping their toddler off at school for the first time . . . you stand there, fighting back the tears as you watch your bundle of joy walk through the door. You feel powerless, wondering if the bond you had shared would survive your little one’s first taste of independence.

Peel back enough layers, and you’ll discover a similar sentiment among HR professionals once the changes went into effect . . . minus the tears . . . and I suppose Operational Leaders were never considered ‘bundles of joy’.

However, the traditional roles, responsibilities, and relationships of HR did represent the bond whose survival was at stake. When Operational Leaders asked, “What is HR going to be doing?”, I am certain many HR professionals were asking themselves the same question.  

Perhaps it could have been communicated more distinctly at the outset. The new Talent Management Strategy was designed to lift Human Resources above the day-to-day administrative tasks they were accustomed to. Moving forward, they would operate as a Strategic Partner to Executives and Department leaders, helping guide and direct decisions that would influence a property’s ultimate success.

Many leaders, my Market HR Leaders included, welcomed the change immediately. For others . . . well, it was tough letting go. Instead of embracing, they resisted change. Value continued to be defined by the dependence of others on their HR expertise. Rather than develop the necessary awareness among Operational Leaders, they reverted to old relationships, “Bring it to me, I’ll take care of it for you”.

Only natural to feel possessive. But in business, it’s often “Grow, or be gone”. More than a few HR professionals left the organization to pursue a more traditional role. Which is healthy . . . its important to follow your heart, to focus on what you value most.

The vast majority that stayed to work through the process realized success. Operational Leaders tasted independence, but continued to share a bond with HR. Only now there was value as a mentor, a confidante and coach, rather than pure administrative assistance.

One Last Show

I had been contacted by the Area Director of Operations for the Detroit Market. She was hosting a Leadership Retreat for her General Managers and wondered if I would facilitate the Talent Management Strategy presentation. This would be an encore performance on the tail-end of a whirlwind Season of Change.

It was July of that same summer. Thankfully, it wasn’t January, or this story would have a totally different feel.

The retreat was scheduled for the Double JJ Ranch, a resort and conference facility 45 minutes north of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I left my hotel in Grand Rapids at dawn, arriving with plenty of time for set-up and a breakfast yum-yum.

As the participants arrived, I was introduced to a new facet of classroom training. Each of the 22 participants, including the Area Director, took their seats and opened their laptops. It appeared that my presentation would be part of the overall multi-tasking required to safely navigate their day.

Undaunted, I launched into my standard presentation. As I worked into the practical applications of the new software, I began to field questions that were unique to those from previous sessions. They had a very practical sense, like the participants were seeking confirmation.

The water came to a boil when one of the participants asked,

“So, this is when I’m supposed to see my open Requisition?”

“Yes”, I responded.

Well, I don’t see it”, she replied.

“Oh No!” . . . I didn’t actually say that, but I thought it real loud.

I remembered it was July 16th . . . the software went live as scheduled that very morning. How could I have overlooked the significance of a date tattooed on my brain since April?

The participants were following along with my presentation and trying to perform the tasks as described. The questions they were asking reflected challenges in navigating through the new processes.

Remember my admission that I had nothing to do with the software design? Well, as much as I believe in transparency, I wasn’t going to admit that to this group.

It was time to shrink or shine. Fortunately, I had memorized enough of the intended application to provide valuable insight and guidance. These were all talented professionals, so together we took the system for a test drive with practical and usable results.

The Area Director was pleased, the participants were pleased, and I was relieved.

An invitation to join their Reception that afternoon was graciously extended, and gladly accepted. I used the moment to celebrate the Summer, to having embraced changes, adapted and grown through the experience, and to toast the many adventures to come.

As I pulled away from the resort, “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent began playing on the radio. Nothing like a musical escort from the Motor City Madman himself, while driving through his own backyard no less, to end a perfect day.

Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!   

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