Monday, October 11, 2010

Navigating Seasons of Change

I spent the last 3 months dreading the end of summer.

Chicago winters are brutal, lingering in the air for an eternity. By the time warm weather hits, I’ve become so desperate, so driven to make the most of the summer that the constant fear of winter hangs over me like an ominous cloud on an otherwise beautiful day. It becomes a source of anxiety and pressure. Better BBQ at the park, better go to the beach, better hit that festival – winter is coming.

My fears remind me of the irrationality and emotion that come along with organizational change. Inspired by my aversion to this change of season, I’m sharing five simple truths to help you successfully manage change in your organization or in your life:
  • Truth 1: Navigating change is about more than just the change itself.
Many organizations find it sufficient to tackle change initiatives with training – they target the change, identify the behaviors that need to adjust and ensure employees are equipped to do the new work. All good, but not enough. That would be like trying to conquer my fear of winter by buying sweaters and snow boots in July. It’s often not the change but fear of the change that has the most drastic effect on performance. Thus, it is just as critical to help employees manage their irrational fears and emotions as it is to help them build tactical skills.
  • Truth 2: Uncertainty maximizes fear.
What is it going to be like? Am I going to be happy? Will it be painful? Will I adjust? Merely the uncertainty of the “impending doom” is enough make stress-levels rise. Even if employees have gone through similar changes in the past – as I’ve been through three Chicago winters – each future scenario is full of new ambiguities that can wreak havoc on our well-being.
  • Truth 3: The past can be haunting.
Memories of the bitter cold haunted me.  Digging the car out of the snow. Feeling the cold penetrate my being. Missing the great outdoors. Have your employees been traumatized by past change? At your company or perhaps at another? These experiences can maximize fear and elevate resistance, reducing productivity long before the actual change comes into fruition.
  • Truth 4: Gradual transition is critical.
Imagine waking up to a snowstorm following a beautiful summer day. Ouch. While a “band-aid ripping” approach to change may be tempting, it can also be traumatic. As autumn arrives before winter, it is easing me in and reminding me that non-summer isn’t all bad. Likewise, gradual progression -- allowing employees time to mourn their losses, say goodbye to the past and grow in feelings of competence -- is vital to any change initiative.
  • Truth 5: Positive stories powerfully uplift spirits.
My husband, inspired by the cooler weather, filled our apartment with Christmas music. Flooded with positive memories of birthdays and holidays, family and fun, I began to anticipate what might be this winter season. What exciting adventures will the new season, the new year bring? How can this change, which I once dreaded, be transformed into a season of new possibilities?

Now, I feel the brisk, crisp air, soak in the treetops of golden hues and let pumpkin spices delight my taste buds. Summer is over, and I’m surprised at how I feel: refreshed.  Granted, it’s not yet winter. But the dread of summer now feels like a foolish waste of energy. Whatever the cold season brings, I am reminded of the opportunities on the horizon.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I’m an extrovert working daily in an introvert’s heaven – my home office. No distractions. No friendly banter. No interruptions. No energy…

Thankfully, my recent trip to NYC was an amazing double shot of espresso. The movement, the activity, the people – it’s like life being poured back into me. Oh introverts in New York, how do you do it?

It’s also amazing how much the streets of New York remind me of the streets of Shanghai. The hustle and bustle. The late-night eats. The super-convenient subway that moves more than an inch per minute (sorry Chicago El, I’m just not impressed). And the Chinatown hair washes (xitou) – truly icing on the cake.

New energy, new life comes from being in the middle of such a lively place and from the sweet reminders of a place I used to call home. The novelty, the vivacity and the memories evoked by New York City were much needed for my own personal sanity.

Mental energy is not simply a whimsical feeling – it sustains us, motivates us and leads to our own well-being. When you’re feeling drained, what brings you back to life? For me it’s fresh, new experiences, high-energy, bustling environments and moments of nostalgia. What is it for you? A quiet evening with a good book? A cup of coffee with a good friend? Hosting a party and inviting all your neighbors? Whatever it is, find time for it in your life!

Now back in my home office, I close my eyes and call upon those feelings. Envisioning myself in Times Square, I draw in the energy once again. I think fondly back to reconnecting with best friends, to meeting colleagues for the first time, to simply getting lost in the crowds. Not quite as energizing as the real thing, but enough to get me through the work day.

Friday, July 16, 2010


“Play me, I’m yours.” The piano, sitting in the middle of Manhattan, calls out to passersby. And people from all walks of life stop to play, to sing and to engage with the city that never sleeps.

It turns out these street pianos, scattered across New York City, comprised the Play Me, I’m Yours exhibit sponsored by non-profit Sing for Hope. For a few short weeks the pianos found their home in the street to “create, inspire, integrate and enliven communities”.

While I didn’t stop to play (due to seriously limited musical talent), there is something fabulous to be said about injecting fun into everyday routines. Simply the sight of pianos that just anyone could use made my heart jump with giddiness. I loved the way the city is full of opportunities to engage, to connect and to simply have fun.

Fun is a magical thing. It generates energy. It transforms moods and changes behavior. It renders laborious activities captivating. It stops us in our tracks and compels us to act and engage.

I’m certain there is more room for fun in our lives. What can we insert to motivate ourselves and the people around us? How can we use fun to bring together our community and our workplaces? Can fun replace monetary bonuses as incentives and lead to even better performance? Envision an environment where people are as ambitious about doing their work as they are seeing the sites of NYC. Imagine a workplace that screams, “Play me, I’m yours” -- yours to contribute to, yours to mold, yours to innovate.

I know that it can exist. I’ve heard about it. I’ve witnessed it. I’ve even experienced it just a bit. Now, I’m on a mission to create it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


“I could sit and stare at helicopters for hours and never feel tired,” Vietnamese farmer Tran Quoc Hai says. I can just hear the possible reactions from his parents, from his friends:
  • “Tran! Stop playing around and study!”
  • “Your future is on the earth, not in the sky. Stop wasting your time.”
  • “Get your head out of the clouds, and get back to work.”
  • “Won’t you just stop staring into space and do something productive?”

The predictable future for Tran Quoc Hai was to be just a regular farmer. But he didn’t stop staring.

Helicopters still evoke fear, repulsion among many Vietnamese, for they took the lives of many during the Vietnam war. Children were taught to run or hide in fear when a helicopter approached. Only the lucky survived an attack. Yet, Tran Quoc Hai felt a magnetic pull to these crafts in the sky. And he didn’t stop staring.

Tran Quoc Hai didn’t squelch his passion for more realistic pursuits. He didn’t let his farmer’s education stop him from dreaming. And he realized there is more to a dream than wishful thinking. He acted. After the war, he traveled the country studying abandoned helicopters. How they were put together, how they worked. He supplemented his knowledge with theories from physics books to conceptualize how they managed to fly. With the development of the internet, he took great leaps and bounds in his learning. And he never stopped staring.

The result? Tran Quoc Hai builds helicopters. Not ones that take lives, but ones that save lives. Not ones that cost a lifetime of wages or even more, but ones that are affordable and can be used by farmers, by rescue teams, by everyday citizens for the good of society. A lofty and, some might say foolish, fascination translating into hope and prosperity for everyday people. How is this possible? He could just not stop staring.

To stare for hours and never feel tired. What is that for you? What is that for me? Stop stifling your urge to stare with thoughts of “be more productive” or “that’s just a waste of time”. It’s time to hush the self-talk instead. If you know what it is that captures every ounce of your fascination, run to it. Act on it. Learn, practice and master. Don’t let anything or anyone stop you. And, most of all, never, ever stop staring.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


We are born to innovate. The thought resonated deep within me while strolling through the Museum of Natural History in New York. The ancient tools of culture after culture were displayed, and themes emerged. Knives, daggers, utensils, and on and on. Each tribe, each people worlds away. Yet, they developed sets of tools so remarkable in their similarity. Each tribe, each people faced with the same challenges – how to eat, how to survive. With primitive education, with limited resources, they innovated. They problem-solved. They created a greater future reality. And they did so with nuances, with uniqueness to meet the needs of their own respective environments.

As cultures became more developed and advanced, the tools diverged. The Chinese created paper, printing blocks and silk. The Syrians invented the art of glass blowing. Adapting to the environment, leveraging the talents of their people, and continuing to pursue novel invention to meet everyday needs, societies developed. As societies interacted, they learned from one another. They began to trade. They applied innovations in new ways. Everyone grew.

We are born to innovate.  Yet we live in a world of processes to follow. Rules to play by. Leaders to follow. Best practices to apply.

Are we innovating? Are we creating greater future realities? Are we integrating old concepts, tried and true practices with new ideas to bring fresh change to our lives and our societies? Yes, our world is innovating. We see the changes as consumers. But are YOU? Are you innovating your world?

We are born to innovate. Imagine a world where tribal societies stopped innovating after creating the knife, the dagger, the bowl and other basic tools. Imagine a world with no progress. Disappointing. Boring. Lackluster.

I don’t want to be a just passive observer to innovation. I don’t want to be just a consumer, a user, a fan, an advocate of innovation. I want to innovate. I was born to innovate.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Speaking a New Culture

I'm not ashamed to admit it -- I started this blog as a job hunter. Those broadcasting job-hunting advice love to warn, “Beware of your online presence!” I, on the other hand, was more concerned by my lack of online presence. (That, coupled with the fact that there are other Heather Daigles out there with Facebook profiles that scare me.) I wanted prospective employers to find me. The real me. Then they could decide if they liked me.

Well, one found me. And liked me. And I like them a whole heck of a lot.

So here I am, Director of Organizational Development for a boutique software consulting firm serving the Finance world. In just a tad bit over my head, and loving every minute. I find myself wearing many hats, engaging in instructional design, leading culture change initiatives, formulating recruiting plans, managing HR legal issues, and simply figuring out how to making working on our small, virtual team rock!

Now, I want to move beyond the job hunter voice. It was still my authentic voice, but it was restrained. It was self-conscious. It wanted so badly to make a good impression. But, I've found that, when I care too much, my ideas are self-edited before the fingers hit the keyboard. I've found freedom in my new gig, and it's time to celebrate!

I’m still sticking with my Speak the Culture theme, and I’m sure I’ll still write about intercultural, psychology, and human capital theories and models that are rocking my world. But I’ll also bring in work pursuits, my struggles and my innovations. I’ll reflect on the interesting dynamics of going virtual in a profession and role that is all about people and creating community.

I have a new culture to invent, to promote and to speak. I hope you’ll stick with me as I travel that path. I promise it will be an exciting ride!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Raging Tiger

2010’s off and running! The Saints have won the Superbowl, China’s ringing in the Year of the Tiger and the Winter Olympic Games are taking off in Vancouver. But these celebrations don’t give us that much-needed time off of work. Winter vacation seem so long ago, and now it’s just  go-go-go, do-do-do. But where are those bright blue skies that put a bounce in our step? The skies are still grey, the ground covered in snow and spring just seems so far away. With so much going on, are we on the fringe of burn out?
A few things have come up this week that have reminded me of the importance of perspective-taking, of community and of support. First, as an extrovert, I’ve found the “virtual” nature of my job a bit taxing. I long for interaction and deeper connections with my colleagues. On one hand, having researched the human capital field, I know that the best virtual workplaces are finding ways to create community. This is, without a doubt, the advice I would give an organization such as mine if I were on the outside looking in. Instead, I’m on the inside looking out, and the self-talk rises. Am I the only one in the company who feels this way? Am I just a needy new employee? Do I just need to grit my teeth, pull myself up by my bootstraps and get to work? It’s funny how we tend to throw our own best advice out the window when we’re in the middle of the situation … even if it’s to our detriment.
Which gives rise to another thought – sometimes it’s ok that we can’t overcome the doubt and our fears on our own. It doesn’t mean that we’re weak. We’re simply created to need other people. Find those people in your life who bring out the best in you, who can help you step out of your fear and make decisions out of strength. It could be a friend. Or, like me, you could hire a professional coach. The thing I love about my coach is that she asks just the right questions – not the ones that make me doubt myself but ones that help me realize that I do have good ideas and, deep down, I know the steps I need to take. I can move forward, acting out of strength, not out of fear.
So if you’re muddled down, overwhelmed and at risk for burnout, I’ll ask – what advice would you give if you were on the outside looking in? Imagine you are your boss, your clients, or, perhaps, your kids. What does success look like to them? What unreasonable pressures are you giving yourself because you think you have to be everything to everyone? And what do YOU need in your life that will help you achieve that success? More downtime? More connection with friends? More fun? Don’t be afraid to own your needs. While they differ from person to person, we all have them!
Joy, peace and success to you in the Year of the Tiger!

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