Strategies for Dealing with Change


Peter McLaughlin addresses strategies for dealing with change in your business and making those changes work for you. McLaughlin is an internationally recognized author, speaker and consultant who works with businesses to maximize productivity and achieve peak performance. He is co-author of the best-selling book Mentally Tough: The Principles of Winning at Sports Applied to Winning in Business (M. Evans and Company, Inc., 1986). Selected in a national poll as one of the best business speakers in the nation, McLaughlin has worked with companies such as American Express, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Target and PepsiCo.

One day, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. They set up their tent, crawled inside and quickly fell asleep. A few hours later, Holmes woke his faithful friend and said, “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”
        Watson replied, “I see millions of stars.”
        “What does that tell you?”
        Watson pondered for a minute and then said, “Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?”
        Holmes was silent for a moment and then said, “Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent!”
        All humor aside, the story illustrates an important business point: Changes often occur so quickly that you, like Watson, fail to come to grips with the new landscape. Your tent is gone, yet no one notices. You’re left alone in the woods without shelter, and you’re not prepared for it. That’s why as managers and business leaders, you must be ready to tackle anything at any time.

Getting ready for anything
        Those business professionals who want to be successful and lead a sane, healthy and happy life need a new kind of training—one that business schools don’t provide. To take an analogy from Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (William Morrow & Company, 1974), most of today’s leaders, like institute-trained mechanics, are ready for everything—except a new situation.
        If you are to be ready for anything, your training must focus more on the person, not just the business. That means focusing on you and your own personal and professional development rather than merely focusing on the situation. It’s about becoming more optimistic and resilient, more creative and energetic. How do you actually do that? Well, consider the following strategies.

Get active
        You need a combination of aerobic workouts, strength training and some variety of stretching to maintain the energy and positive emotions necessary to navigate a new landscape. Elizabeth Curtis, CEO of Sharp Community Medical Group in San Diego, works out most mornings and rides her horses most weekends. She does so because her job demands it—working with 1,100 physicians is not easy.
        “I don’t know how anyone can find the energy to keep up and to make crucial decisions without the benefits of exercise and healthy eating,” she says. “Nothing relieves my stress like an hour at the fitness center or a 20-minute run.”
        So how do you fit exercise into an already busy schedule? That’s where some creative scheduling comes into play. Chances are if you really look, you can find 30 minutes of free time in your day. Perhaps to adequately fit exercise in you’ll need to wake a half-hour earlier. And, in fact, that’s the best approach. Because exercise stimulates the right side of the brain, those who exercise first thing in the morning tend to get their most creative ideas during that time. So not only is exercise good for the body, it’s good for the mind too.

Tell yourself a good story
        Renowned author Peter Drucker once said, “A leader is a person who controls his own energy and orchestrates the positive energy of the people around him.” Realize that everywhere you go, you leave an “emotional wake.” If it’s negative, your company produces less quantity and certainly less quality. In any situation, you can be angry or you can solve problems; rarely can you do both.
        Martin Seligman, PhD, author of Learned Optimism (Knopf, 1991) and Authentic Happiness (The Free Press, 2002), has corralled the best psychologists in America to study positive emotions. His research proves what a lot of you suspected: Positive emotions help you become healthier, happier, live longer and be more productive at work. The results of Seligman’s research give you the answer as to what—and how—to change in order to be more consistently positive and optimistic. For example, consider the following:

  • An optimist tells herself a good story, especially after a defeat. In Seligman’s words, to be more positive use an “optimistic explanatory style.” For example, say, “The deal was almost done when the stock market hit the skids. That’s not our fault. We’ll get them next time,” versus “I never win the big ones,” or “It’s hopeless dealing with big committees.”
  • Perform a daily act of gratitude. But don’t just send an arbitrary e-mail to someone. Rather, use handwritten notes, special phone calls or surprise cubicle visits. Your team members will love it, but the real change happens within you.
Change the company environment from hindquarters to headquarters
        Look at the average company. Most, if not all, meetings are set up in the left-brained, logical, linear, sequential-thinking mode. Position titles are left-brained as well: CEO, CFO, COO and CIO. There are budget meetings, operational meetings and technology meetings. But where’s the committee for creativity and innovation? Who got rewarded for the most innovative customer save or creative sale? Perhaps these are topics you can bring up at your next meeting.
        Additionally, from a feng shui point of view, most offices are “hindquarters,” designed around where employees put their rear ends. “Headquarters,” or places that encourage ideas and visionary solutions, are needed. While day-to-day business operations certainly depend on logical decisions and structure, they’ve gone overboard. Companies need to encourage the creative thinking that anticipates the new environment.

 Stake your tent … and your claim
        Those business professionals who pitch their tents in uncharted territory are the true leaders. Sure, they may be a bit apprehensive of change initially, but because they’re physically fit, enthusiastically optimistic and headquartered in creative thinking, they embrace the future in the new world of technology, globalization and ever-aging employees … and their results are better for it. So the next time someone moves your tent, admire the new view and embrace the change.

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