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.




Did your technology investment fail?

Technology solutions

Efficiency at the cost of humanity may cause more harm to a company than good. Well-designed people strategies and tactical action among teams as aligned with efficiency models, yes, but let’s not try to solve productivity with the implementation of software if people strategies have not been considered in the overall plan.

Let’s decode this from the corporate speak…

If you are going to buy the software there needs to be a plan in place for the people who use it!

Case in Point

Shared with us in a meeting this week was the sad story of an organization who indeed did buy a software solution but put no plan in place for the people who will use it. That plan would have involved the following:

  1. Communicate: Know the desired outcomes for the software and how it is intended to be used, then convey it to the people who will be using it. (Vision)
  2. Implement well: A lot of software has multi-level offerings which allow the product to scale along with your company’s growth by providing additional plugins and add-ons to increase functionality. Hire someone from the vendor site to come in and assist the project team in implementing the solution. Target specific needs and functionality to meet desired outcome. As an added change management strategy, ensure that front line users and decision makers are included in design workshops to make sure the tool is being built and rolled out to meet actual need. This will simplify the task for your IT team who are unfamiliar with the software and generate increased buy-in as teams get involved.
  3. Train: When you ask your employees to self-learn a new software, that software will not give you the bang for your buck that you were hoping for. Your team is likely too busy in their day jobs to find resources and play with the tool. Why would you want them to trade efficiency for a savings on training? Let them learn from an experienced trainer, with all the hints, tips and shortcuts provided in a day or a weekend to benefit your investment rather than the plethora of hours your team is taking away from the day-job as they navigate their way through self-tutelage.

Non-technical people often make the assumption that those who appear tech-savvy instantly know how to use all technology. This, simply, is not the case and why it is so important to provide administrators and users with training and certification courses. In addition to that, you want your team using the software in a consistent manner.

If you want to realize a decent return on your investment (ROI) from your new “efficiency” or “Client Relationship Management” tools, you need to wrap some people strategy around their use. Fail that, and you fail your expected ROI.

I laugh when someone states, “That technology was a waste of money.” When more often than not, the technology was never the problem to begin with, it was the lack of people strategy around the solution.

This version of this post was also presented on Linkedin as “Your Grand Investement and Why it Fails”


You ARE The Reality Show – in real-time

I just read Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Crush It” and many of his messages resonated with me in terms of the priorities I live by as well as the priorities I ask my clients to adopt.

…”love your family, work hard, live your passion”

Using that as a filter for each and every decision you make will make a difference in your life. What struck me while reading his book, in addition to the online business advice, was his talk about legacy. The words that kept popping into my head were “Reality Show”.

In the last 15 years, the internet has shortened the miles between us and Web2.0 has opened up global interaction like never before. We are reaching farther, communicating more and great ideas are being shared in ways we never imagined. It is important to remember, though, that every object casts a shadow and there is one point I would like to make.

Every single interaction that goes into writing is YOUR own personal reality show.

Here are a few lessons I have learned over the years to help you make certain what you put out there you can indeed live with.

  1. From my grandmother – ‘Never put anything in writing you don’t want to repeat in court’ – this advice is older than I would like to admit, but it stands relevant for today. What you put out there onto the internet will remain forever. Be it email, video, written comments, complaints, words of wisdom – all if it has the potential to be shared with the world – will you still be proud of it 5, 10, 20 years from now?
  2. From my Mother – ‘Be impeccable with your words’ – careful respect for how you speak to someone is important. Each and every person deserves respect, no matter who they are, where they come from or how they intersect with your life.
  3. Witnessed in the workplace – ‘You are an ambassador of your workplace, act like it.’ – How you speak about the business for which you work can become seriously career-limiting. Are customers your friends on Facebook? Are you twittering about how much you hate your job? Are you putting yourself liable for being fired or worse based on client loss due to a few typed sentences?

HR departments are now using search tools to find out more about you before they hire you. Does what you post reflect who you are, or even, who you say you are to places you are applying.

Companies are now doing careful searches for their company names, and chances are they know what you are saying. If you don’t believe they have the granular tools to do so, stop kidding yourself.

Your own name is being searched by girl and boy friend’s parents, volunteer organizations, sports clubs, and more.

Have I always been proud of what is out there under my name? No, one living post just makes me look like I am not very bright and another one highlights some pretty poor writing skills from many years ago. What is interesting, is that I have made attempts (about the not-so-bright post on a certain website)to have it removed, but to no avail. (if you happen to have nothing but time, go crazy searching, I’d love to know what more is out there.)

What kind of Reality Show are you providing to the world, what kind of legacy are you leaving? It is something you can be proud of and speaks positively about who you are? Or as Gary Vaynerchuk mentions, is it something you want your grandchildren to read?

Last thought: a photograph speaks a thousand words.


Leadership Lessons From Mom!

All of us have a background and history. Many of the lessons I learned about leadership were really common sense child-rearing lessons passed on from one of the most remarkable people I know, my Mother. With Mother’s Day approaching I thought I would share a few with you.

Respect Everyone: No one ever truly knows anyone, what they’ve experienced, what they’re going through now, or who they are internally. Showing respect recognizes everyone partakes in struggle and triumph and deserves respect.

If You Can’t Share it With Your Grandmother, You Shouldn’t Say it, Write it or Do it: This is especially true now, be impeccable with all communication. Words tossed in rudeness, anger, haste or without thought will always come back to bite you in the butt. In this day of high-speed internet and Social Media, it’ll bite immediately, and it could cost you your job or force you to repeat it in court!

Be a Cheerleader: No, not a pom-pom shaking acrobatic one (unless that’s what you love to do), I mean cheer on the success, efforts and opportunities of others, just like you would your own child. Being happy for others rather than resentful feeds your soul.

Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously: Sometimes life is absurd, period. People react and are reacted to in ways unexpected. Situations don’t always work out as planned and one needs to redirect. Laugh! Find the humour and the gems of wisdom within the unexpected. You will be all the healthier for it and you’ll make more friends!

Clean Your Own Room First: Before you go criticizing others, take a good look at your own life. The day you can say everything in your own life is perfect, you are exactly who you wish to be and you have no tasks left to perform, go criticize someone else. Until then, collaborate, help, take part and learn the art of allowing, influencing and encouraging others in their path! We live in the same house!

Clean Out Your Backpack: Pay attention to what you choose to hang onto. Holding onto negative emotions, old resentments, anger and frustration is no different than choosing not to take that full milk container out of your backpack, after a while it begins to stink and rot and it ruins things!

Use Your Stuff: My mom lit her candles, used her good dishes and wasn’t afraid of polishing silver or using white table cloths. The deal is, you have it so use it! You are born with and have developed many gifts, talents and strengths worth sharing. You’ll find joy in using them!

Mom taught more lessons than that and I can guarantee you, I wasn’t always a quick study! The beauty of having a mom who models great leadership is that she’s willing to be repetitive, probably to the point of frustration at times! Lucky me that she still continues to persist in providing the lessons in life that, for some, only experience will drive home. Thanks Mom, for being remarkable!

(Original Post was written May 3, 2009. Update, my mother passed away on January 22, 2014 making these lessons ever so much more precious to me now!)


Why You Think I Am Wrong And What I Have To Say About It.

The thing about being an adult in an adult work world is that we’re forced to deal with many things we may find unpleasant or stressful. Communication between people takes many forms and can be interpreted in many ways. Ideally, we would live in a world where every person with whom we communicated would understand our intentions and not interpret them badly. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

We are emotional human beings with egos, and we are adamant about protecting our viewpoints because we believe we are right. When communication comes our way, our response is typically based upon a reaction to our own view point and when that viewpoint is challenged, we often focus on the parts that anger us rather than the true message behind the communication.

How we respond to communication in our work and personal environments is a clear indicator of our respect for the viewpoint offered us, or how we respect the communicator themselves. Reponses packed with anger, frustration and hurt will put a stop to a relationship very quickly. This kind of a response can be so damaging it can take years to repair the relationship.

Here are a few tips on dealing with difficult discussions in your life. You’ll want to jot them down somewhere, you see you live in the real world and will be forced to deal with difficult discussions frequently.

  • Avoid Public Responses – A response to a difficult conversation or written communication should remain private. Sure, tell a confidant or two if you need to vent, but until you have calmed down and queried the person about their intent behind the discussion, you are reacting blindly and immaturely. Posting an angry note on Facebook will likely lose you the relationship or get you fired.
  • Analyze The Whole Communication – If you are upset about a conversation or a written communication, try these steps:
    • What parts make you angry? Why does it make you angry? Then explain to the other person in a very calm manner exactly how you interpreted what they said, and ask for clarification. Avoid arguing, listen!
    • Work hard to find the hidden gems of wisdom they’re trying to impart, focus on any compliments or positive statements they have tried to convey, rather than letting your anger focus on a single word or perceived slight.
    • If you are truly right, you will have no problem calmly building a compelling case to prove your point. Answer any questions they may have asked rather than lashing out to hurt them back, there is a good chance they were not trying to hurt you at all. Give them a reason to support your viewpoint!
    • Keep your anger private, being outwardly pissed off, rather than dealing with the person directly only proves YOUR immaturity, rather than their insensitivity.
  • Maintain Respect – Most people who initiate difficult conversations do so because they feel they have a significant stake in the topic or success regarding the issue being discussed. It’s extremely tough to initiate a difficult discussion. A person may already have lost sleep, poured over the written form, and feel vulnerable by exposing a challenge or expressing an opinion they know will create heated response. They do it because they care and believe, like you do, that they are right. The ideal situation is to have the issues put on the table and discussed maturely so the two of you can come to an understanding. Be respectful enough to the relationship to treat the other person with consideration and thoughtfulness.

Wanting to become a leader, striving to excel in any environment or hoping to launch your career will be dependent on the relationships you build and your reactions to difficult situations. If you struggle to handle conflict or difficult discussions in your personal relationships, it is almost a given you will struggle in the same manner in your work environment. Becoming a manager or leader of any kind of business will require you to practice and hone the skill of conflict resolution . Your future career or possible future promotions will be based upon your ability to take on the tough stuff, not the easy and inspired tasks.

Life is not all about what makes us feel good, but rather our attitude and response to all life has to offer, good, bad, challenging, beautiful, difficult, tragic, and amazing! Are you willing to accept all that life has to offer and respond to it maturely with a positive attitude that builds relationships or do you really believe life is supposed to hand you all happiness and ease?


A Letter To The CEO

IdeasWorkshop: We’ve written a fictitious ‘Letter to the CEO’. This letter is written by an imaginary worker and is applicable for use across industries. We work with your team through discussion to dissect and create coaching opportunities that the fictitious CEO might address.

It is also an effective tool to promote introspection….it’s a bit long, but we believe worth the read. If you believe this has been helpful in your team meetings or leadership practices, please let us know. Leave a comment on the blog or connect with us through our contact page.

Dear CEO,

I am a regular employee, I don’t have a fancy title and I am not seeking to one day have your job. I like what I do, because I went to school for it and selected it to be my career of choice. The role has worked its way into something I never expected, because that’s just how life works out sometimes, but I like it.

I wanted to write you a letter because I never get the chance to see or talk to you and I know you are very busy with the running of the company, travelling, keeping shareholders happy, and I don’t really know what other responsibilities you have but I am guessing they are enormous.

I don’t wish to complain, I like what I do and the company is a good one. Perhaps we are of little significance down here and don’t want to interrupt the important things happening up in your executive offices, but we do see many things you might not see. If you will humour me I have a few questions that need some clarification, then I will feel that I have a voice.

Strategy Sessions – we know your executive goes away once or twice a year on a strategy session and while I’m certain these are important, the folks at our level have never really heard about a new strategy or direction. Everything here seems to tick along quite the same as it has for the 12 years I have been here. Do we have a company strategy? What does it look like? I would like to know if what I do every day is what the company really wants or that my work somehow feeds the ‘strategy’ you all have laid out for us.

Mission/Vision/Goals – The other day I was dealing with a customer service issue and the customer directed me to our public web page. They said I was not following our Mission. I looked kind-of stupid because I asked him what he was talking about. Then I saw we had one! When did we define a mission for our company and when did we add the vision and goals? I have never heard of any of it and so I printed it out and shared it with a few of the people I work with. They had never seen it either. Is there someone I can talk to so I can find out how to make what I do match the things we tell our customers we do, because those two things are not in alignment?

Expectation – I really like what I do! I also don’t want to sound like a complainer, but I worked for about 6 weeks on a project my manager asked me to commit time and energy toward. I worked quite a bit of overtime to meet his deadline and I missed out on some very important family commitments to do it, I was willing to offer the 540 hours rather than the 240 regular hours to meet the deadline. I was happy to do that because it meant I was getting the work done, and on time, it’s good to take pride in your work. It’s not the first project that I’ve committed this much time toward. Unfortunately, he failed to tell me that I was not being paid any overtime for the work I had to do. Do we have a project planning tool to help us understand the number of real hours it takes to complete a project or is it the expectation here that I will be committing 90 hour weeks to every project for the same salary?

Value – I am not quite certain I understand my role here. Don’t get me wrong, I like what I do, the work is something I selected, but I am struggling to see where I add any significant value to the organization. I want to make a difference, want to utilize my strengths and my skills to really add value to the team, within the organization and for the people I work with. There are some skills I have that I believe would truly contribute to helping the customers be happier and stop the project over-runs. I have taken it to my manager, but he says it’s not within my job description and to keep doing what I am doing. Isn’t it the responsibility of every employee to try and improve the company? If my own manager doesn’t believe in me, should I be looking for work somewhere else?

Performance – I have been passed over for a promotion 3 times in the last 3 years. I don’t want to head up the executive or management ladder, I am definitely happy being good at a specific technical role here, but I have 12 years of experience in this company. I work extremely hard and every year I ask my manager what I can do to improve so that next year I have the opportunity to be promoted. He always says, keep doing what you are doing, you are exactly where you should be. For some people that might be nice to hear, but I want to get better, I want to be someone my manager really needs on his team and I want to know I have a future. Life gets more expensive every year for my family and keeping a continual salary for 3 years makes me feel like I have somehow failed. Am I able to become technically good at what I do without moving into management and still receive increases or am I now a liability? You see, people with far less company knowledge have been surpassing me in promotions and yet no one will tell me why.

The Rah, Rah Meeting – Thank you so much for a neat day away from the office 3 weeks ago. It was fun to leave the building and have a day with people from other groups. I liked the hike and the food afterward was really, really good. It must have cost a lot of money, and in these struggling economic times it is highly appreciated. At the end it was nice to see you pop in there for an hour and to hear what you had to say, because it is the only time in a year I get to see you. I want in the worst way to believe I work in the company like the one you described. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel that way. The other employees I work with are frustrated, angry and disgruntled. No one seems to know what is going on, the layoffs two months ago were devastating and we are all scared. The company you described was more like working for Google, and as much as I want to believe your description, it just isn’t real. How do I remove all the daily negativity of the workplace and bring what you described in that meeting into my every day when management does not lead that way?

CEO, I want to be the best employee you have ever seen. I want success for the company because it is the company I know and the work I understand. I want to see people happy and customers thrilled to come back for more. But I have to admit, I am struggling to understand why our managers are not trained to help us get there. I struggle to know why you see such a different picture of the company than we do. Please help me to find answers to how I can make it different. I am already walking in with a positive attitude, I already look for ways I can contribute more and I keep far away from the gossip chain. I support my co-workers with good feedback. But none of this is enough, there seems to be something missing because things are not going well at my level. Can you suggest what more I can do?


Your Loyal Worker

No direct relationship to a specific organization or company is being intended. The letter is written in generalized form taking into consideration issues of employees at various organizations.

If you would like a copy of the facilitation guide for this exercise, please contact us on the contact tab and write “A Letter to the CEO, Facilitation Guide” in the comments.

(The first paragraph of this post was updated on Feb. 5, 2017)





Top Ten Lessons From 2008

Top Ten Lessons from 2008

It has been quite a year of change for Strategic Sense; change highlights the adaptive skills inherent in every individual and business! From the tail-end of a boom in Calgary to the significant change in business due to a recession, many lessons have been learned. We wanted to highlight a few here with thanks to each and every one of you for contributing to our early success.

1. It is a very small world on the internet we have been visited from as far away as Indonesia. Seeing the many countries who have visited the website certainly prove we are in a global age.

2. Web 2.0 has significantly changed the face and the means of doing business. We can’t wait for what’s next.

3. Exceptional Leaders are needed in bad market times, especially if they want to get the people rallied around company success.

4. Many people understand how to define a goal, but are not quite certain how to apply the actions for getting results.

5. Employees often tell us they wish we would work with their leaders. Those same leaders often tell us they are doing all the right things. (disconnect)

6. Business can be done from anywhere, but meeting face-to-face is the only way to learn the passion the other individual has for the topic.

7. PayPal is brilliant.

8. The people within a company and the customers they serve are the two most important things to focus on. Internalized self-serving executives will kill a business.

9. Leaders who have employees with bad attitudes are responsible for attitudinal change.

10. The most difficult leadership position, is adequately and responsibly leading yourself!

We wish each and every one of you a very Happy New Year. May prosperity find you and may you recognize that YOU are in charge of you, YOU are in charge of changing your own world and of making a difference in the lives of others. Happy 2009 from the nice people at Strategic Sense!

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4 Steps to DIY Action

On the weekend, one of the rare occasions I watch television, I turned the TV on for noise and tuned in to a show about a fellow who fixes do-it-yourself renovation disasters for people. The woman he came to save had taken a skill saw and cut a window into a wall between her kitchen and dining room for more light. Consequently, she cut through a copper pipe and water poured everywhere including onto the newly opened up electrical boxes.

This is one of those occasions we can honestly say ACTION was not her friend! The entire show carried the theme that ‘action without a plan’ is not only fool-hardy, but can be down-right dangerous depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Effective Plans of Action are the means to reach any goal or objective but a careful balance between how much to plan and when to act needs to involve information from all the stakeholders. Here are 4 ways to ensure you are managing the balancing act between planning and acting:


1. Define the Stakeholders. These are the people significantly affected by any and all change. Consider:  if other departments are affected; if your department provides a service to another group; if this will affect any vendor relationships; if there will be an impact on the customer; definitely look at how you will be affecting the employees who are not in the decision-making levels. Gathering as much information on stakeholders and how they might be affected is integral to evaluating change.


2. Build Your Scenarios. You might think it’s a step worth skipping, however, without a clear imagined idea of the impact and response you will receive from each and every stakeholder, change management of the restructure may prove disastrous. A great leader understands the effects of change and is prepared to deal with any and all possibilities in advance.


3. Build the Plan. You now have a good idea what to expect from each and every stakeholder so begin to build your plan. Keep in mind the scenarios you deem acceptable and those which are not. Ensure your plan is detailed, that it can be clearly understood by everyone and it contains not only your objective, owner and final date, but the steps to get there and from whom you’ll need help along the way.


4. Take Action. A plan is simply a plan until you have taken action to make it happen! Building a plan without taking action is an exercise in futility! I would not ask my employees to build any plan if I were not willing to see it through, steps 1 & 2 above help you decide if it’s worth building. At this point you’ll need pretty strong leaders to help make change happen. You’ll need:


a. A top leader who will back the approved plan through to the end

b. Middle managers who are willing to do what it takes to see it through.

c. A GREAT communication strategy.


Throwing any kind of change top-down without first communicating the why, how, what and where may very well end in mutiny! Help the staff understand you are there to hear their concerns and offer them good reasons why this is better for the company; how it will make a difference in the working lives of each person; what it will do for the employee and customer experience; where the changes are to occur. A clarified Communication strategy combined with Plans of Action that are well defined, and excellently executed will make the difference between a GREAT initiative and a mediocre initiative.