Archive for Communication

What’s inside your framework?

At last count, I have tracked approximately 136 different organizational change frameworks. Some famous and highly used, some not.

It’s kind of like looking at art…

Have you ever walked through a museum enjoying and admiring great artwork? Do you remember the pieces and how the artwork made you feel?

Some art has the potential to truly impact me and tell a story, it draws out feelings even when the art is not “my thing”.

But notice, you rarely remember the frame.

And yet…

…the frame plays a significant role in the display of the artwork, it is carefully selected to align with the colours, impression, and the overall ‘feel’ of the artwork. It is the stage on which all great art either pops, stands out, or conveys a sense of historical importance. The frame is truly vital to the presentation. But is not the art.

The art is what you have paid money to see, and is the catalyst for reaching inside your emotions, for telling a story, for conveying an idea or for making us think. The art changes you.

The Framework

So you want a specific organizational change management framework, good. But it doesn’t stop there, success is about hiring someone who can paint the image that fits well within the framework. Putting all your attention on a frame, and leaving the opening empty will not get you that gallery showing. You can polish the frame, you can carve into the frame, you can even repaint the frame, but until you have the artwork, your presentation will be left hollow. (See what I did there?)

I work with a framework I like because science supports that framework, and I trust that. But true success is based on HOW I paint the picture within that frame. It is the application of many elements of how change is led, the engagement, the technical team, the impacted people, and the organization that really drives success. Trust your framework, then find ways to pay attention to the culture, the impact, the touch points and paint the plan with the kind of brush that will truly make a difference for the people being impacted. Positively preparing them for what they will see, think, feel and do is more important than filling out a template within your framework.

How you work within your selected framework matters.

If you want to learn more about how we can teach your team to paint their organizational change picture, contact us.

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Patti Blackstaffe works with people and organizations in implementing sustainable change in a rapid changing world. Her key areas of focus are change management solutions both at the project level and the organizational level. She has over 10 years of experience in change management, has worked on projects that impact 50-30,000 people in both large and small organizations. Patti brings experiential design thinking into all her projects ensuring solutions are relevant, simplified and the implementation makes sense.

You can reach Patti at 1-855-968-5323

Contact us here to work with us.




Thoroughly Uncommon Common Sense.

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Everyday people are witnessed doing what appears to us as totally out of the realm of what you or I might call sensible.

Is There Such a Thing as Common Sense?

From one’s own view point a solution might look simple because the other person just needs to apply some “common” sense. Unfortunately common sense only consists of the knowledge we have managed to acquire to the point where we need it! For example, an experienced driver will slow for a corner and accelerate through the turn. The inexperienced driver will tend to enter the turn at speed and break in the turn. To the experienced driver the inexperienced driver has no common sense. Add a race driver and he will assess his speed, visualize the line he wants his vehicle to travel and through a combination of braking and accelerating will minimize deceleration and maximize acceleration. The race driver will view the other drivers as having no “common” sense based on the knowledge the race driver has acquired.

It Starts With Common Knowledge

In effect, there really is no true ” common” sense just gained experience and knowledge for each individual. So it would seem common knowledge would fit as a good base for a form of common sense.

How about an example of common knowledge:

The world is flat (common knowledge) – don’t sail out of sight of land or you will fall off the edge of the world (applied common sense).

Within each persons realm of being, there are multiple sources of “knowledge” that shape the base where decisions are formed. The first time a person forgets a cast iron frying pan on the stove and they realize something is burning (sometimes the flames are a clue) the first reaction is to grab the handle and remove it from the heat. Most will get burned because they acted without considering that the handle would be too hot for an unprotected hand. Good old common sense says if the pan is hot the handle will be hot too! Sense of survival says get the pan off the heat (put out the flames if there are any). If you happen to be a child or a teen you likely were told, “Don’t touch that, it’s HOT!” And we all know a child or two who simply needed the experience themselves to believe it – ouch.

 Can Experience Get In The Way?

Insurance companies know all about experience, common knowledge, and common sense, just ask anyone who runs a golf course. When dark and scary clouds roll in, golf courses are made to blow a loud horn to signal danger and bring people in off the course, the rule is there for a reason. You see, common knowledge is…if you play outside swinging sticks of metal in the air, then the risk of getting hit by lightening increases. Easy, common knowledge, right? Unfortunately, this is where ‘experience’ can get in the way. Our common sense is so tightly tied to our own experiential knowledge that the message “It’s never happened to me before” gets in the way and finishing play often trumps the horn. The number of golfers that fail to heed the horn is significant and scary, and the insurance rates align with that information. The fact is, you won’t see a player who has been hit by lightening wait for the horn, his experience tells him to get out of there when the clouds start coming in, and chances are he’s watching them closely.

Strategic Sense

Yes, we know it’s the name of our company, but we also get asked a lot why we chose it. Well, we wouldn’t want to depend on just plain old ‘common sense’, I mean, earlier we said it doesn’t exist! Great leaders, though, they understand the value of strategic sense in all depths and breadths of decisions. A few questions to ask prior to making a decision are:

  1. What do we know and believe about this?
  2. What don’t we know?
  3. Are our common understandings really true?
  4. What experiences have we had that may shape our decision?
  5. What experiences haven’t we had that may get in the way of a good decision?

Stop for a moment to consider a big decision you have to make in life or at work. Try running it through this set of questions. Odds are, you will discover you need more data before you make your final decision, at least a wise one.

The Contemplative Leader

Companies don’t always consider the ‘contemplative leader’ as driven enough and look for the quick-answer-dynamo when promoting. The fact is, contemplative leaders are less likely to blow a cannon off into a crowd the way some dynamos might. Perhaps contemplative leaders who make good calm decisions are actually naturals at running through a filter of strategic sense.


What’s the Protocol?

What the Show ‘Covert Affairs’ Can Teach Leaders. 

Covert affairCovert Affairss is a spy show about CIA operatives. A few years ago I learned a hard lesson when I failed to ask a very important question while media were gathered around a significant event; “What’s the protocol?” This question appears a lot in Covert Affairs.


Let me explain. As the Chair Person of a Board of Directors of a not-for-profit, I was given the honour of leading a ground-breaking ceremony for a new school being erected that served preschool children with disabilities and their families. I will admit, it was a great feather in my cap personally, and I was extremely proud to see the model moving to the building of a school, when all previous expansion had been through purchase of an existing building or rental. I had spent almost 10 years with this organization and saw it grow from one building serving 173 children to the building of a 6th school that would eventually assist over 900 Children with disabilities. I was very proud of that growth, especially since during that time the organization successfully maintained the importance of focus on the child with an 83+ percentage of outcomes reached.

The Protocol

As a leader intent on supporting the good work of the team, I don’t particularly care for the focus on me, but as an ambassador of the organization it was occasionally my job to showcase the organization to groups. What I had never done before was a ground breaking ceremony. I worked hard in preparation, the Development team had prepared a schedule, a script, reviewed my speech, and I’d practiced until I was blue in the face. They had a wonderful child there who would be helping with the ground-breaking and many community individuals, dignitaries and media had been invited. The event had been very well organized and I was amazed at all that went into it. I just had to show up and be the spokesperson.

What I forgot to ask about the dignitaries and their respective roles, was; “What’s the Protocol?”

My role had always been to highlight the organization and its history, to use real and compelling examples of children and their progress, the heart-strings would always find themselves drawn into the story. I loved it being about the kids, about success and about the way kids overcome adversity. I was on a role, and my young 5 year old helper was a smashing hit, I made sure of it.

Sadly, I was completely unaccustomed to the importance of political dignitaries. Basically, I failed to understand the significance of their presence as it related to the funding, publicity and importance their role plays in the ongoing workings of a non-profit school. Their presence was about future dollars!

Basically, they were ignored. Ground-Breaking

And the Crowd Dispersed

Yes, there were photos with them at either side of my little pal and I holding the golden shovel, but they were just a stand in presence to what should have been a more significant role. What a wonderful media gift it would have been had I known the best part would have been giving those politicians the shovel and asking them to take the first dirt with their new little 5 year old friend and stepping back to let them!

Then I forgot to properly thank them, I took my little 5 year old over to the play area the event team had set up and I talked about the kids, with my little friend sharing his laughter and heart with the crowd. Oh the media loved the little guy – and I was asked for interviews later (which I never do well as cameras intimidate me) and those politicians went on with their busy day, wondering why they’d been called to attend in the first place. Talk about poor political moves!

In the end, the Development Team deemed the event a success, as they did get some much needed media attention, the cameras moving to the main school to shoot additional footage. They never once commented on my faux paus or political immaturity, but I am sure words unsaid were thought. Conversations around, “how do we keep MLA so-and-so here for a bit?” and other comments I heard as the crowd milled about in smaller groups made it obvious, and I grew increasingly aware of what I’d just done.

What’s the Desired Outcome?

Leaders, managers, employees all function under a layer of expectation and understanding. Some of the expectations may seem obvious to their bosses, but not to them. By asking the question, “What’s the protocol here?” gives them an opportunity to truly understand the expectations being placed upon them.

Basically, all meetings, all gatherings and all activity needs to lead to a desired outcome or outcomes. Some of those will be assumed. Some of us will be so entrenched in our duties we will fail to see the importance outside of our typical actions. We need to always be asking – what is the desired outcome, what is my protocol in this situation. Many a problem could be avoided, especially in terms of media communication of we knew that.

Change Management includes a strong definition of desired state for a reason, we want all activities to lead to the desired outcomes we are trying to achieve. Without a clear understanding we will be involved in changes that will be less than successful than we had planned.


Change Management & Leading

Where Are We Going?

Change Management (CM) is quite the buzz word in business lately – everyone knows they need it, but few organizations truly understand the science or the way to go about leading and managing change for their organization. Many companies are still fixated with tossing it into a separate department or onto a specific project for the middle managers or project managers to ‘figure out’. For many companies, especially project-specific ones, the focus appears to only be on getting buy-in for difficult changes.

“Let’s wrap a little change management around that.”

It’s a frustrating phrase we hear quite often in our consulting practice that not only demeans change management professionals and the means by which change is successfully adopted, but it also makes it sound like the people were the afterthought – like a dictator suddenly realizing three minutes into a coup that they may need a strategy for placating the masses.

“Change Management is about bringing the people with you through change, not shoving it down their throats in a more digestible fashion.”


Change Management is just a small bite of Organization Development, not the whole meal. Leading change for the entire company is best accomplished by the leadership within the organization first. It is not enough for an executive body to decide to make a change, there are some very important readiness steps that are often missed. Projects that are completed fully through to implementation before the organization decides it’s time to bring on a change manager miss the most important steps to successful change.

In this article by Forbes, Donna Wiederkehr offers some very poignant advice on preparing the change at the leadership level in her commentary on change.

  • Have a clear vision
  • Articulate the vision
  • Give your teams a reason to believe
  • Use transitions for inspiration, not just explanations

Most of this is prepared in the decision-making process, long before project start or during implementation, and the heart of it is developed at the leadership level. Read more of her article to dig a little deeper into Donna’s thoughts on change.

Our point is this: A watered-down Change Management effort designed solely for last minute buy-in is not going to be as effective as creating an organization that is Poised4Change™. Your organization needs to be capable of handling the many forced changes through market disruptions, environmental change and technological shifts that businesses are facing today. Companies need an overall change strategy that reaches the heart of the employees who are being asked to make changes on a continual basis.

What do you see missing in change efforts you have been involved with?


Why Buy-in Isn’t Enough With Change

readiness-123rf-16527177_sIn a nicely written post titled, “Resistance is Not Futile” by Jon Tveten about managing resistance, he indicates the C-level suite is often surprized by the resistance to change. To quote Jon;

How could people not be falling in love with their brilliant new strategy? How could they fail to see the benefits to be wrought by this wonderful change?”

And Jon’s post goes on to discuss the importance of listening as a selling tool of the change.

This brought the word ‘dialog’ to mind. With information coming at us 24/7, high-speed technical advances, doing far more work with far less resources, being inundated with the pressures of shareholders and a highly competitive landscape, it seems we have failed at knowing how to maintain honest and transparent dialog.

The industry uses words like “stakeholder impact analysis” and “process evaluation” to describe a couple of change techniques, and yet we as consultants often hear the words – “Just get them to buy-in” from leadership we also hear; “We were never asked our opinion” from the front lines.

Getting Buy-in

Buy-in sounds great, but what does it really mean? Basically, it tells you that others have agreed to go along with a decision. GREAT! But, is it enough they have agreed to go along? We don’t think so.

Truth is, this isn’t necessarily as great as it sounds. Consider this scenario;

Marcella, the CEO, and Dean, the VP of technology, make a decision to transition the global team to a new HR management system. This involves a complete shift in how the organization manages staff in 8 different countries. The reason for the change is that the VP of technology pays for the cost of the software out of his budget. At present, the annual enterprise costs for this system require a yearly investment, a maintenance, and service contract, and the company is beyond initial warranty so they also pay for each upgrade. By all intents and purposes, Dean looks to save $15,000.00 a year on his budget by putting in a new system. The numbers were crunched, the spreadsheets shared and Dean made a very compelling case for change based on a budgetary bottom-line.

In the yearly strategy session, Marcella makes the announcement to the other VPs and director-level staff that this change will be made in the New Year, deferring to Dean for an explanation. The project will be a 6-month effort and they will bring in the consultants from the new HR management system software company to help implement the solution. It is assumed that everything will transition smoothly.

What’s right about this?

Sounds familiar and straightforward, right? Fiduciary responsibility is what these folks are hired for.

  • Business is business, the deal is that a company needs to generate more income than output in order to continue at the very least and grow at the best.
  • The C-Suite is where these decisions need to be made, and the final call should be theirs.
  • The VP of Technology likely did his homework in doing a technical comparison of the two pieces of software and believes he made a great selection that weighs both price and functionality.

What might be wrong about this?

Stakeholders! This is where the word ‘dialog” comes in and below are the questions rarely asked up front – prior to decision making. This is a big part of readiness for change.

  • Was this decision made without Rob, the VP of Human Resources? This decision impacts and affects his entire department and every individual who works for him.
  • Was a use-case study of how the current software is being used by the HR team done prior to making the decision and is the new software a major improvement or is it at par?
  • Was an end-user impact analysis done to understand how this HR management system affects every employee’s access to their benefits and employment information completed?
  • Will any current, highly utilized functionality be lost or are there tightly linked 3rd party or custom applications highly dependent on the current system? (Sometimes only front-line staff can answer this).

The readiness piece is missing in this fictional scenario, but it doesn’t sound foreign to many people who have been through a similar change. While the compelling case in numbers makes sense, there are a myriad of hidden costs associated with a change such as this. “What will break?” Answering that question can identify much of the dollars, then there are the costs of the transition such as training, etc. Without a solid change strategy prior to decision making, companies are time-and-again finding themselves with over-run project costs, delayed implementation schedules, stronger than expected resistance and a very frustrated staff-base and implementation team. Bringing in a change team to ‘manage’ the roll-out is too late – failing to hand the change team the ability to gather data prior to decision-making is where most companies cripple their change initiatives.

Open Dialog

Making decisions in large companies is a complex dance that is not taken lightly by the C-level leadership. Every decision weighs heavily on them and the pressure to perform is constant and ongoing. Many leaders hesitate to strike the fear of change into their employees by even hinting about an upcoming change. The fear that the larger collective will ‘get-wind’ of something they don’t like and a campaign against a change will start before a solution can be found can break down transparency and dialog. Let’s face it – as Jon says in his article – people don’t like to change their habits.

Companies who invest in up-front use-case and impact work on an on-going basis as part of their readiness and decision-making process is far ahead of those who don’t. The C-level decision makers count on the teams to provide the right data, too often there are many numbers left out in the analysis of bottom line costs associated.

Leaders who fall into the trap of believing they have all the answers will miss some very valuable solutions. Continual evaluation of what and how technology is being used, or ongoing reviews of process and policy with all stakeholders makes for good business.

Readiness is more than a line on a piece of paper, readiness is about being Poised4Change™ and is best applied when built into the way companies do business every day. Creating a solid platform for preparing for ongoing change on a continual basis means they have better information for decision making. As my colleague and friend Jeffrey Summers of Summer’s Hospitality Group said recently, “Companies need to adapt, innovate or embrace change in order to remain relevant.”

Remember ‘Buy-In’?

Just because the strategy session ended with everyone saying they will “go along with” a decision does not mean they agreed with it. Dialog and well-managed readiness, inclusion, transparency and consideration of the stakeholders up-front prior to making decisions will move the organization much farther ahead in making great decisions and reducing resistance to change. Facilitated efforts and the right kind of dialog will give your organization leverage for doing what Jeffrey Summers says; “…adapt, innovate and embrace change to remain relevant”.


Rocks Nests and Curiosities of Change

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It always surprises me a little when someone says; “I leave my personal life at the door when I come to work.” While that may be what some companies want to hear, the reality is quite different. People’s lives are not compartmentalized, every thought, feeling and emotion they feel permeates every other thing in their day. The person who ‘checks it at the door’ is more than likely in better control when it comes to showing it.

All transition provides lessons and we know transition is that difficult, awkward, uncomfortable time preparing us for the new. Change comes into our work life for all kinds of reasons, sometimes it is a welcome change driven by us, other times it is a change handed to us. Either way, the change is there and we need to face it. But first, we need to move through transition.

The Rock

Transition periods are tough for people. In that period it’s like the person is a rock formation in high tide, being slapped furiously and repeatedly while remaining stalwart at the job, trying to survive. One can imagine how easy it would be to resent being that rock. But there are gifts in change. Check out just what happens to a large rock formation as it gets cleansed, reshaped and even sheds off debris and all that clings to it for security begins to wash away. The old begins to disappear and the new forged beauty begins to show. Surviving transition and being willing to take the hits often leads to better things so try not to run.

Mark Mueller-Eberstein in his TED talk discusses the transition curve of denial, anxiety, shock, fear, anger, frustration, confusion and stress. These are the many emotions of a team member at the end of one way of doing things, and prior to reorientation of a new approach. Morale begins to drop just after fear. Have you as a leader addressed it?

The Nest

It’s easy to see why mitigating resistance during a change is hard. Transition‘s ugly, and the nest of ‘what has been’ is comfortable. Ever awaken on a very cold morning and not want to get out of bed because you know once you do, you’ll be shivering? Loved ones, friends, plans, and yes, even breakfast are right there outside of that bed, but you can’t make yourself move. The comforter isn’t more important or more loved; it’s the transition you are avoiding. The thought of going through the goose-bumps, the shivering, and the cold on your way to the things you love will keep you there so long you even hold off going to the bathroom as early as you should. We like our comfort; we truly hate leaving it especially to move through transition. It’s even worse, when companies fail to prepare their people or help their employees understand what the vision is and what that transition might look like.

The Curiosity

Regardless of the catalyst for change, people want to know what’s going on. They want to know what to expect, what they will be losing and what they aim to gain. They want leaders with enough emotional intelligence to recognize the stages of transition and to carefully guide them past the stress toward creativity, acceptance, hope and enthusiasm. Basically, they need the right information to do their job and believe they will still have success after the change. They need a reason to shed what’s comfortable and move toward the new vision. Honestly, which would get you out of bed faster – if you thought is was cereal for breakfast or you were told it was a 3 cheese omelet with bacon?

Leading Change

Sharing the vision is the most important thing you can do, over and over and over again!

Planning the path is second, and that path is going to be slightly different for every group, person, and department – because ‘what’s in it for them’ will be slightly different. You can use any methodology you like, any system you like, but if you don’t coach and enable a leadership and subsequent management staff to focus on owning and dealing with the people through that change, then adoption will take much longer, I can guarantee it.

Lead change, give vision and time for the rocks, manage the transition, give people a reason to leave their nest and be willing to own it.


Own It to Change It

Own_It_Change_It How does organizational change occur?

Change occurs because people, just like you and me, made the decision to change. How that decision came about may be different for each individual involved; the motivator, influence or even traumatic event that may occur and spur someone toward change is usually personal and unique to each.

In the end, change occurred because the individual decided to take responsibility for their contribution to the current state of affairs & take action toward the future.

Every stakeholder involved plays an instrument in the orchestra of change.

Successful, sustained change occurs when someone owns and takes responsibility for their individual piece of the musical score, especially if it achieved a not-so-appealing outcome based on past performance.

Change is hard. It involves leaving our comfort zones, habits or belief systems and developing new ones. The transition is messy while we figure out how to accomplish new behaviours. There will even be a few mistakes along the way and people will need to readjust, (forgive), move forward and shift action. It can be awkward or frustrating. Keeping the whole orchestra (organization) and the final performance (goals) in focus will help.

  • Each person needs to know what instrument they play and how that instrument contributes to the whole.
  • Each person will need their own sheet music and it will be slightly different than someone playing a different instrument.
  • Each person will need to own their personal performance AND how they perform along with others. (You’ve all heard music when one instrument is off or out of tune.)

Making change is not about laying blame, it’s about being responsible for and owning ‘what doesn’t work’ or is no longer sustainable action – owning it personally in your corner of the stage – and it will take practice. Equally important to successful change is collaborating with others, following the beat or lead of another, being supportive of and aligning with other members of the orchestra, not to mention caring deeply about those people who will bear witness to the performance.

Own it to change it…

With luck, your orchestra has a supportive and active conductor guiding you along the way.

P.S. If you have an absentee or a non supportive conductor, you are still part of an orchestra and need to own your part in the overall performance in spite of a lack of leadership. Working together WITH the other musicians toward the greater performance is the best way to win with change.

P.P.S. Pointing fingers at others and blaming a lack of leadership as an excuse for poor performance or a bad attitude is a cop-out that shifts responsibility to others – this is a lose-lose activity. Win-Win activities involve owning it to change it.



Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Question“We find … it’s much more important and difficult to ask the right question. Once you do that, the right answer becomes obvious.
~Amory Lovins

If you want to know more about why people do or don’t change, then ask more questions.

When working with organizations and teams, it is important to first listen and understand before building plans and developing programs for them. For organizations that do not have coaching as a mainstay offering for their leaders, they may be surprised to hear it is those coaching methodologies that open the door to understanding. For a large company, it is definitely worthwhile for key individuals and leaders within the organization to be coached, and for those in charge of organizational development (OD) to have some coaching training behind them.

There is a generalized stigma around coaching that can be hard to shake and it’s often referred to as that ‘airy-fairy’ soft-skills stuff. There is nothing soft about coaching!

If you remember being figuratively pinned to the wall as a teen in high school as some wise adult helped you learn to stand up and take responsibility for your own actions, you can easily recognize the value for coaching in any environment. Through great questions, a coach can dig deep enough to get to the root of why you choose your current thought patterns and reactions, helping you better understand where you fit among the dynamics of a multifaceted team of individuals. There is nothing soft about it. The secret to a coach’s success is the training they receive within two areas:

  • learning how to ask questions and
  • the right questions to ask.

This is why people in Change Management (CM) are also effective coaches. One who seeks to understand the stakeholders and the stakes involved in any change initiative is best served by first knowing the right questions to ask. Great questions return great results, further creating introspective reasoning for the individual who is providing the answers. The people being asked begin to think a little more about what they do and why they do it, eventually getting to the heart of why, within a change initiative, the stakes are so high for them.

This doesn’t mean the stakeholders are all in an ‘organized coaching program’, but rather, through a varied series of meetings, one-on-one discussions, facilitated group sessions and other forms of analysis and risk analysis, the CM professional is able to dig deep to the heart of any challenges that may inhibit change.

Change is inevitable, but change as a push mechanism is rarely successful. Change initiatives that take into consideration all stakeholders and build a plan for change that motivates and inspires people to move forward from resistance to desire find greater success. It is my experience that there is usually a lot more to resistance than what is initially shared, and a little coaching methodology can certainly loan itself to finding the greatest resistance and helping the people within an organization work through it.


patticroppedPatti Blackstaffe works with people and organizations to develop
Happy Workplaces world-wide guiding them toward mastery and leadership
through consulting, advising, coaching, speaking, and delivering training.

You can reach Patti at 1-855-968-5323

Contact us here to book for Idea Sessions, Change Management, Executive Coaching or Team Development.

Idea Sessions | Change Management | Executive Coaching | Team Building



Policies, Procedures and the Leadership Team

PoliciesWhether you have 10 people walking in the door for work or 1000, they all bring with them their dreams, hopes, values, frustrations, problems and their desire to make their career the best it can be. People bring with them every experience they have ever had, and their perception of what that experience has meant to them, good or bad. Most of them will react to everyday situations based on those experiences, putting a wrapper around the situation based on what they believe it means to them.

Witnessing the human dynamic can be both awe inspiring and difficult, depending on what is playing out at any given time within the organization. You will have motivated and non-motivated employees, you will have great leaders and managers who are biding their time. There will be people with good intentions and the odd one with not-so-good intentions.

And this is why every company needs to have policies and procedures in place with strict adherence to them.

For the routine actions and for the unusual actions that will occur in any company, a set of guidelines for both employee and employer provide clarity and help avoid miscommunication.

First, the best place to start is to look at your Provincial or State labour standards or code. These are the guidelines you as an employer must uphold, it is the law in the place where you live. It is also the job of every manager in your company to know what these are; are you helping them? Small companies without a solid HR presence will especially need to know what the rules are.

Second, you need to protect the company and your employees from harm. Harm includes law suits, security issues, labour problems and safety. There are clear guidelines in all of these areas as well. Do your homework, make sure you know what your rights are and make sure you know the rights of your employees. A company handbook can include some of these items.

Third, you need to understand what processes you as a company wish to work within, basically; “What are my manager’s supposed to do and what are they allowed to do within these walls and how do I want them to accomplish it?” AND “What are my employees supposed to do and how do I want them to accomplish that?”

Many companies are unaware of how important their own policies and procedures are.

Executive team, not everyone ‘works like you and thinks like you.’

I know a lot of companies are weary trying to keep up with the legislated pieces and want to apply more of the budget to operations rather than HR. However, HR, when given the right direction and authority, have the ability to save the company many dollars in the long run.

From vacations to stress leave, from benefits to complaints, without a solid set of procedures to access and the guidelines of what to do, your employees will be scrambling for answers and wanting support. In most companies employees want their immediate manager to have both the answers and the authority to make a difference for them. Have you prepared your management team to handle all they will need to handle when they encounter a difficult situation or event, a budgetary shift, a grievance? Have you prepared your HR team to take on what the manager cannot? Have you outlined the differences in their roles? Are you tracking attrition, complaints, costs of transition, and more? Have you outlined the overall ‘behavioural intolerance level’ your company will not accept and what happens when they arise? If not, you have some work to do.

It is easy to make the assumption your staff understands how you want the company to run, after all, you are there every day and you are showing them how to do it. Be cautious, leader, these people need things clearly laid out, eliminate as much opportunity for misinterpretation of your desires as possible. Empower your staff to make decisions without you because the policy or procedure is spelled out in a way that supports your teams and protects your organization. But be aware, this is not a quick task or a two month answer, you will need facilitation and direction through about 18 months to two years of development if this is the first time you have embarked on such a task and you have more than 20 employees.

Give your Managers and HR department the tools and the power to make a difference for you and for your staff. Develop a company where everyone knows what support looks like and your teams are empowered to shine.


patticroppedPatti Blackstaffe works with people and organizations to develop
Happy Workplaces world-wide guiding them toward mastery and leadership
through consulting, advising, coaching, speaking, and delivering training.

You can reach Patti at 1-855-968-5323

Contact us here to book for Idea Sessions, Change Management, Executive Coaching or Team Development.

Idea Sessions | Change Management | Executive Coaching | Team Building



Why I Can’t Be Hired

Be willing to do the work, not play the victim of circumstance

get-hiredWorking in Organizational Development (executive coaching and change management) is my passion. I love situational, character and behavioural development within an organizational environment. I personally study hard to build my programs and I take neuroscience, anthropology and psychology research into account for all jobs involving people. I have done this self-study for almost 20 years regardless of where I have worked – I am fascinated by people. What really charges me is when I am asked to come in and work with teams for greater collaboration and communication.

To determine if I am a good fit for the consulting contract, I ask the following two questions:

  1. How much action and change is the executive leadership willing to take on in order to make my efforts worthwhile for the company?
  2. What kind of support will be available from the top in order to make positive change happen?

The one statement that leads me to decline a consulting role with a company is this:

“I just want you to come in and fix ______________.” (This statement is rarely associated with actions of the executive leadership.)

First, your people don’t need fixing. Second, I am powerless to ‘fix this’ because as the consultant that is not my job, as the leader it is YOUR job. Third, I am hired to guide you and lead the way, the work involved belongs to each and every individual within the company STARTING with the top level leadership and supported through to the front lines.

When a problem exists, the first step is for the leadership to be able to admit there is a problem, but they cannot stop there. They must be willing to admit the actions they have been taking thus far are not working and something needs to change. It needs to change first at their level.

I have been known to decline any job whereby the hiring individual is unwilling to do what it takes to turn around the morale or working relationships within the company. I will also turn down coaching jobs with any manager who is not willing to take the action necessary to make change at their (leadership) level.

Coaching and consulting are about providing the assist, but we don’t come in and score the goals for our client, that is their job. They must be willing to do the work – not play the victim of circumstance.


patticroppedPatti Blackstaffe works with people and organizations to develop
Happy Workplaces world-wide guiding them toward mastery and leadership
through consulting, advising, coaching, speaking, and delivering training.

You can reach Patti at 1-855-968-5323

Contact us here to book for Idea Sessions, Change Management, Executive Coaching or Team Development.

Idea Sessions | Change Management | Executive Coaching | Team Building



The High Cost of Complaining and How to Stop It

Strategic Sense made a commitment this year to highlight some of the remarkable authors, leadership professionals and business people we have had the great fortune of meeting and working with over the last 3 years. Starting on Wednesdays, you will see guest-posts from some of these folks. All are leaders in their field and will have solutions to some of our biggest workplace issues. As with Mike Figliuolo‘s post last week that encouraged us to be Middle Leaders today’s post helps us to stop complaining

Today’s Guest Post is by Marlene Chism, a speaker, author and founder of The Stop Your Drama Methodology to increase clarity and improve productivity and personal effectiveness. Her Motto is ‘No Complaints, No Excuses and No Regrets”. You can visit her websites at or or get a copy of her book Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley 2011).

Complaining Workers

Here’s Marlene…

Riddle: What addictive habit is bad for your health, wastes your time, and is costly to your business?

Answer: Negativity.

Here is some interesting research.

Negativity is a habit. We think over 60,000 thoughts per day and 85 percent of those thoughts are either negative or repetitive.

According to The Journal for the Advancement of Medicine, even a five minute episode of recalling an angry experience suppresses the immune system for up to six hours.
Time Waster
If two employees who make $20 an hour complain for one hour per week, an average of 12 minutes per day per person, that averages out to $2000 per year due to complaining. Think about what happens with five or six others join in on the complaining.

Studies show absenteeism is related to workplace negativity. Gallup reports that negativity cost US economy 3 billion in lost productivity last year.

Negativity shows up in various forms: gossip, finger pointing and bickering just to name a few manifestations, not to mention the habit most of us have without realizing it: Complaining.

Complaining is a difficult habit to break, after all venting feels good. The bad news, and part of what makes complaining a addiction is this: Every time you vent, you grow a new brain cell for the purpose of venting. The brain changes as a function of where you put your attention.
I want to give you the answer to break the complaining addiction: Learn how to ask for what you want. That’s right…no complaints, no excuses, and no regrets; just ask.

The method I teach is called “Turning negative into positive.”

It’s easy.

Catch yourself the moment you say, “I don’t want…” Stop yourself right there. This is step one. Now that you know what you don’t want, you don’t need to waste any more time talking about what you don’t want. Turn that statement into a positive request. In other words, what is the opposite of what you don’t want? Then all you have to do is reframe your statement. You have just saved thirty minutes of story-telling, and now you aren’t boring everyone around you as you rant and rave about what isn’t working. In fact, there’s a good chance you will get what you want if you can name what it is that you want instead of going off on a tangent.

Here’s the formula in a 1-2-3 format.

1. Know what you don’t want.

2. Reframe what you don’t want into what you do want.

3. Ask for what you want.

Example: You are getting ready to have a discussion with a co-worker and you have a feeling it might turn into an argument. It is tempting to say, “I don’t want to argue.”

1. Know what you don’t want: (I don’t want to argue.)

2. Reframe what you do want. (I want us to come to an agreement.)

3. Now, ask for what you want, “I have something a bit sensitive to talk to you about and what I really want is for us to come to an agreement.”

Besides setting the stage for problem solving, you have started to break a habit that is bad for your health, wastes your time, bores others and costs your company lots of money.

Marlene Chism is a professional speaker and the author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley 2011) Marlene has a master’s degree in HR Development from Webster University. To get a copy of Stop Workplace Drama, go to

Patti Blackstaffe at Strategic Sense Inc. is a Speaker, Executive Advisor, Trainer and Leadership Professional. She has worked in international business, non-profit and education; with a focus on workplace behaviour she has a mission to teach companies how to become Happy Workplaces.


Human Capital and Culture

Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) are an enormous effort for the companies involved. Not only are you busy putting process and financials together between two companies, every single level of the organization must take on a ‘change role’ as they begin to integrate.

There are several ways we see this managed by the companies involved:

  1. Push: The larger acquiring company pushes it’s systems down to the acquired company and defines a “This is how we do things here” stance.
  2. Handshake: The two companies take the time to evaluate the systems and processes in order to determine which ones will work best for the newly forming organization.
  3. Separation: The companies are tied at the highest level, but the two companies work and function with autonomy from each other with exception to the reporting levels.
  4. Pull: This happens when a very small company is purchased by a larger organization, often you will see the small company become a department or branch of its own, taken under the wing of the parent company.

Many of us have been through one or many M&As in our working lifetimes and we all have an opinion as to how it was handled, how smooth the integration and how effective the changes were. In many cases the changes are seen as negative experiences and there is a reason for that.

M&As occur for a variety of rationale, a company wishes to partner with another company who has a compatible product – a marriage of sorts. A company will need to improve their portfolio based on a particular direction they wish to head or a company may wish to corner a market and cannot do it alone, but needs the product or strength of another company to accomplish that task.

One of the actions that can be abandoned in this process is the due diligence of evaluating a mix of varied cultures and the effect bringing those cultures together may have on the organization. Cultural compatibility is necessary for ensuring that the very expensive investment made in the new company will be realized with an appropriate ROI (return on investment) for the product being purchased.

If any of you have older teens who have dated someone with a completely different family background than yours, you know what I am talking about when I say marrying cultures. You can see the differences pretty clearly, but those teens are rather blind to what the issues may be. If they carry forward into marriage, there will always be some serious road-blocks as they work their way through those differences.

In the beginning, the excitement of what “could be” doesn’t take very long to turn into “uh oh” as the two organizations begin to define their “show stoppers” and “must haves”. Understanding the risk you take in cultural incompatibility is vital in managing that integration.

Change is always hard, it is our human nature to avoid it at all costs and instead rest in our comfortable way of doing things. The last thing any company wants is to pay 8-50 million dollars only to see the product knowledge walk out the door and risk the product and the investment all together. Your ROI includes the people involved, M&As are best accomplished with a people approach.

Patti is a strategic advisor in Leadership Development, Customer Service and Culture through Mergers and Acquisition. You can book her to speak at her Speakers Page.

Need Strategic Sense for your business? – hire us for Leadership Development of individuals & teams, group training and company strategy. Happy Workplaces Succeed, take the path to get there. 403-201-8512


Staples Inc. Shows It Can Be Done

There are some terrific examples of Customer Service out there, some we have come to expect, Zappos for one – a large organization built on providing WOW for their customer. When I am listing examples for my clients, one company would never spring to mind and that is Staples. They are the largest supplier of office products nation-wide and a business I have tried to avoid using, until now.

Previous experiences were…

  • Lack of care or concern for my copy center needs, several times miscounting or getting it wrong then refusing to correct it.
  • Waiting for up to 20 minutes for someone to help or assist me, if they noticed at all.
  • Allowing me to leave the store either disappointed or angry at their lack of concern for my solution.

In fact, last summer I had decided to obtain most of my office products from elsewhere. As a result, I thought I’d try one of the other Staples locations and came to the conclusion this problem was much larger than a local manager who didn’t ‘get it’ because I received the same experience at other locations.

All that has changed! Staples is a key supplier for several things I need for my business, and in the last month felt forced to shop there – was I ever pleasantly surprised.

Yesterday I tracked down a manager/supervisor and asked if the management had changed since last summer. He indicated it had not, and wanted to know why I asked. I mentioned my work in the areas of Leadership and Customer Service and told him I was seeing a marked improvement in their store, he was happy to hear it.

Apparently Staples rolled out a nation-wide customer engagement plan to all their stores. I now intend on being a more frequent customer to observe its sustainability and its reach. From what I witnessed in my last two visits, they do appear to understand that customers are the reason for their job, rather than an interruption.

  • I had at least 3 employees in different departments ask if there was anything I needed help finding or if I had any questions. Score tally 1
  • Managers and supervisors were watching closely to see if anyone looked stranded or lost and directing employees accordingly. Score tally 2

I do hope their customer engagement rollout includes building on that engagement, extending that new customer service goal to include customer experiences as they increase their customer base; they have an incredible opportunity to do so.
Kudos to Staples!

Patti is a strategic advisor in Leadership, Customer Service and Small business. You can book her to speak at her Speakers Page.

Need Strategic Sense for your business? – hire us if you prefer to rise above the status-quo, care deeply about employee and customer experiences and truly believe in living and performing with excellence.


Just Get Out Of The Way!

There are a lot of different descriptions of what a tool-kit really is, and it’s different for everyone.

Plumbers have a varied tool-kit to Electricians. Teens will need a different tool-kit than toddlers for getting through the learning curve that is teen life. Equally, leaders will benefit by understanding the tool-kits needed by their team members so they can do their jobs!

So what exactly makes up a tool-kit? It’s anything utilized by an employee to enable and enhance their ability to perform and exceed their expected role as an employee. You wouldn’t ask a software developer to write code on paper – you’d provide him with a computer, the right software, the ability to properly test it and (very important tools) the support to take as many roadblocks out of their way in order for them to do the job. That could include providing them with space to focus, limiting meetings and interruptions, fighting for the budgetary means to allow them to continue. It also means getting out of their way!

Leaders forget sometimes they are no longer the hands-on specialist. Often, they find themselves wanting to dig in and work with, rather than guide, employees. We’ve been hearing from a number of our clients that sometimes all they want is time to get the job done. Frustration over a manager who is keen to take part can provide the following impressions:

  • The Leader is micromanaging
  • The Leader is not confident in their employee’s abilities
  • The Leader doesn’t trust the employee to do the job ‘right’.

Often the case is simply an enthusiasm and keen desire to be part of something they have left behind.

So what is today’s message? Provide employees with what they need and then please get out of their way! Offer them the chance to shine, to improve and to make a difference on the team. We don’t suggest you abandon them, by any means; you are there to support and provide a tool-kit for them in order to enable them to shine. Avoid hindering them!

Patti is a strategic advisor in Leadership, Customer Service and Small business. You can book her to speak at her Speakers Page.

Need Strategic Sense for your business? – hire us if you prefer to rise above the status-quo, care deeply about employee and customer experiences and truly believe in living and performing with excellence.


Sweating the Small Stuff

In customer service as in any other area of the business, it is in the details where we strike the defining difference between meeting our competitors on the same plane or rising above them to a level that leaves them wondering what on earth happened.

I found this TED talk by Rory Sutherland packed with great insight as to why those details matter.

Watch the TED video and feel your creative energy begin to form….(under 13 minutes)

I have often felt we’re missing some key positions within companies; roles that could launch an organization passed the competitor but also offer the kind of innovative and creative culture Generation Y is seeking.

Idea Generation Specialist

This person would meet with all levels of the organization listening to thoughts and solutions raised by both employees and senior executive and have a clear understanding of both the challenges and the things which work well. As a bridge between management and front-line, they would have an overall picture many organizations might miss.

Creative Use Product Designer

This person would be tapped into the customer, would know exactly how the product is being used and know what ways the customer would WANT the product to be used. Caution here, we are not saying add any feature requested, but demand and need would drive innovation from the user’s perspective.

Customer Experience Analyst

When building a company customer service department, many organizations work hard to develop a streamlined, efficient manner of approach to customer service. They see this part of the organization as a reactive force to customer complaints and frustrations rather than a pro-active department who’s purpose is to respond with already defined pro-active ways of making the customer feel not only ‘served’ but leaving with the experience of a lifetime that makes them feel like they are royalty. This person would know what the customer is EXPERIENCING. There is a difference between experience and response.
Front-line Knowledge Collector

This is the most fun for me – an individual who knows exactly what is happening at the front-line. A person who’s job it is to share company-wide the great ideas generated by the front-line staff. As Rory Sutherland says, the best ideas that cost the least money are generated by those without authority or budget. How interesting to implement cost-saving, creative and thought-provoking ways to get messages to the customer, all generated at the front-line. Company awards for most creative / least expensive ideas may be worth striving for. (Trust your front-line, they do know your business and your customer.)

Employee Satisfaction Analyst

When was the last time someone came to your office and asked you what it would take for you to feel valued in your organization? How about someone who spent their day helping to create the kind of culture an employee would love to work within. Evaluating organizations to strive for making a difference for the customer base, the world and rallied the employees to strive for satisfying not only themselves, but the organization as a whole through collaboration and team work? You have the people – Generation Y are experts at these things, we have a lot to learn from them.