Make Change Happen

What’s Your Word For The Year?

Word Cloud for Word of the Year

One day over lunch this summer, I got to talking with some friends about our intentions for the year ahead. Our conversation turned to the idea of having a word for the year: something that would reflect a theme we chose to have running through each of our lives over the next 12 months.

We went around the table and asked each other what our word for the year would be. Responses were wide and varied, and each prompted deeper conversation and refection.

I love the idea of having a word for the year. Mine is ‘consolidation’. Yep, it’s not sexy, but it’s meaningful to me. That’s because I’m a person who loves the next bright, shiny thing, and I’m notorious for starting things and not finishing them. That’s a constant source of frustration for me, and as I reflected on what I wanted this coming year to be about for me, that word kept coming up. So I grabbed it, and it’s stuck with me.


I reckon there are two simple criteria for a word for the year to be effective:

  1. Meaningful: it’s got to mean something to you. Meaningful things can promise to take away pain or to give you gain. See above for my example. If it’s meaningful, you’re also likely to remember it.
  2. Focusing: when you’re faced with a decision, your word should help you focus on what’s most important. For example, if I’m tempted to explore a brand new market for my business this year, I’m less likely to say ‘yes’ to that because this year is about consolidating my work in my existing markets. Focus is essential for getting what we want (check out Daniel Goleman’s work on this).


How do you come up with your own word for the year? I suspect, deep down, most of us have an inkling of what it is. It might be that as you’ve been reading this, it’s already popped out. If so, grab it and own it. If it’s not there yet, I suggest you reflect on these questions and write some notes as you do so.

  • If I could have, do or be one thing this year, what would that be?
  • What would it look like if I got out of my own way a bit more? What will it take to do that?
  • What do I keep telling myself I need more of to be successful?

Your answers to these questions will most likely point to your word for the year. You might end up with a few. I had ‘spaciousness’, ‘simplicity’ and ‘magnification’ as close contenders. If you’ve come up with more than one, leave it for a day or two and notice which word keeps rising to the surface. That’s your word.

Finally, write it big and bold and stick it somewhere you’ll see it every day.


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Don’t Wait. Design Next Year Now.

In January, I posted Your Year By Design. The idea of deliberately designing how you’ll spend your time over the next 12 months. It’s something that really works for me because it gives me a sense that I’m creating the life I want, rather than life simply happening to me.

As I reflect on my year, it’s been a good one. And it’s also tinged with a sense of intentions-not-quite-realised. There were a few things on my list that I definitely intended to do (like finish my book, for example) but I got busy doing lots of other stuff I’d committed to instead. How did that happen?

Here’s what I learned: January is too late to design your year.

Design It Now.

Now’s time of year when, in the southern hemisphere at least, we’re looking forward to a summer break. For many, December is about cramming. Trying to get work deadlines met, going to end-of-year celebration parties, rushing to get the Christmas shopping done. Most people just want to ‘get to the finish line’ and then collapse in a heap!

January then becomes an ‘unhook and recover’ period. The usual pattern is to get to the end of the year, take a break, and then sometime in late January, start to lift your head up and think about the year ahead. By that time, the year is already moving, and before long, you’re halfway through and wondering where the time’s gone.

As the end of this year approached, I got a sense that next year was already beginning to be filled with commitments that I’d agreed to. My calendar was free, so, sure, why not? But I’d said ‘yes’ to stuff before I’d done the thinking about what I wanted my year to be about. If I kept on with that and waited until January to design my year, I’d be trying to fit the important stuff in around the existing stuff. That’s not going to work!

So, I pressed pause and did my year by design early. Here’s how it’s shaping up.


As I head into the summer break, I’m feeling good about next year because I’ve already decided what it’s going to look like. I’ve deliberately given myself lots of time out to do the things that are most important to me. And now I know that I can respond with confidence to new opportunities that come up,  because I’ve already booked in the most important stuff.

Design your year now:

  1. Download the 2018 calendar
  2. Follow the steps in Your Year By Design
  3. Go into the break knowing you’re set up for a great year ahead 🙂


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Make Change Easier With A Stakeholder Map.

Want to make change happen with less effort and more impact? Do a stakeg map. Here’s how:

Step 1. Map Who. 

To start with, you’ll need an idea of the change you want to make happen. With this in mind, work out who your most important stakeholders are. Who are the ones who have something at stake and need to be involved in making the change happen? Put their names down on a piece of paper in ‘mind map’ style, along with yourself in the middle.

Put a star next to the ‘critical few’. These are the ones who really matter. The ones you know that if you don’t get them across the line, your plans are dead in the water.


Step 2. Map Your Connections

Draw lines between you and each person. Think about the quality of relationship (trust, openness of communication) you have with each of them. Give that relationship a rating between 1-10, with 10 being the highest.


Step 3. Map Their Relationships

Think about what you know about the relationship each of your stakeholders has with the others. Where you know there is a relationship, draw a line between those people. Based on your best estimate, give each of those relationships a rating on a scale of 1-10.


Step 4. Find The Leverage Points

When you find leverage points in a system, you can make changes happen much more easily. In the case of a stakeholder map, leverage points are certain people, or groups of people.


In our example, Andy is a strong leverage point. I’ve identified Kelvin and Jane as critical stakeholders. While I have a pretty good relationship with Jane, I don’t have a strong relationship with Kelvin. But I have a strong relationship with Andy, who also happens to have a pretty strong relationship with Kelvin. So, I’m thinking that I could leverage this dynamic to get Andy to influence Kelvin. And given the relatively strong relationships between Andy, Jane and Kelvin, there’s further opportunity to leverage that too.


Does this all sound a little Machiavellian? Perhaps. And we know that relationships are the currency of change. So when you map out the dynamics at play, you can use them to your advantage. Sounds smart to me.



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Who Are Your Cultural Carriers?

I recently assisted a government department to define their sense of common purpose, and to highlight the great aspects of their culture that they wanted to reinforce. It was a powerful experience that created ripple effects across the entire organisation. And I reckon that’s because of the way the senior leadership team chose to approach it.

Traditionally, a senior team first works behind closed doors to come up with a first draft. Brimming with excitement, they then embark on a top-down rollout to get input and buy-in from the rest of the organisation. (Note: If you had your corporate-jargon alert-o-meter on for that last sentence, it’d be maxing out right now). Typically, these efforts result in eye-rolling passivity from the majority of the staff, who just want to get on with the job without being distracted by another poster on the wall. With this approach, you’re hard-pressed to generate the collective energy you’re hoping for.

It doesn’t work. We need a shift. Here’s what that looks like:Culture Conversations Contrast Model.001.jpeg

In the case of this organisation, the senior team chose to do two things:

  1. Invited all staff into collective conversations about purpose and culture
  2. Invited others across the organisation to lead those conversations.

The leadership team recognised that in any group of people, whether it be a single team or a whole organisation, there are a few people who people represent the best of what the entire group aspires to be. They have the sort of energy and drive to really want to make a difference, and when you meet them, you can’t help but be inspired. These people are your ‘cultural carriers’.

If we use the analogy of a petri dish, they’re the bacteria that the culture grows around.

Cultural Carriers big and small dots.jpg

While some of them might be at the top table, most of them won’t be. They’re spread across the organisation from top to bottom, and they have a disproportionate impact on the culture.

The senior team identified some possible cultural carriers, and shoulder tapped them. They also invited any interested others from across the organisation to join in. We equipped this relatively small, yet highly engaged group with the mentoring, the training, and the tools to host the conversations, and then they were handed the reigns. All members of the leadership team were active participants in the conversations, but they were not the leaders.

What I think is particularly unusual, and ultimately powerful, about this scenario is the maturity of the senior team to know that the culture lives in the organisation, not at the top table. They had the sense to tap into the wisdom of the crowd while playing the roles of hosts and curators. They got out of the way and let the people do the work, accelerated by a few key cultural carriers.

Who are your cultural carriers? How can you tap into them to shift your culture?


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Cultural Carriers are your potential Change Makers. Learn more about my Change Makers programme, including next intake dates.


You’re More Resourceful Than You Think

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You’re more resourceful than you think.

In my younger days, I was sent to work in Leeds in the UK by the global accounting firm I worked for. Coming from sunny Perth in Australia, it was quite the cultural and climate contrast! Never one to turn down an opportunity to explore a new environment, I set about learning as much as I could about this strange new land in the North of England.

To make it interesting, a mate and I hatched a plan. Every Friday after work, we’d take a backpack to the Leeds train station and jump on a random train, not knowing where it was heading to. Our goal was to have fate decide where we’d end up, and our challenge was to spend the weekend not paying for accommodation wherever we landed.

Over the weeks, fate took us to Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, York, Sheffield and a bunch of other less-heard-of places. Upon arriving, we’d head to a likely looking pub, and rely on our charm and Aussie accents to get to know a few of the locals, and hope that one thing would lead to another. Without fail, it did. We had some amazing experiences and made a whole heap of new friends, some of whom I’m still in contact with to this day.

Whenever I’ve told this story, I’ve noticed that many people respond by saying ‘I could never do that’. As the author, Richard Bach says “argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”

You’re more resourceful than you think.

I reckon there are two types of resourcefulness. Planned resourcefulness, and discovered resourcefulness.

Planned resourcefulness is where you write the script beforehand. You create the itinerary, you know what’s going to happen and when. It’s the safer option, but there’s less potential for growth, and it ends up being kind of boring after a while.

Discovered resourcefulness is where you put yourself in unfamiliar situations and discover what you are capable of. It’s the scarier option, it requires initiative, and it shows you what you’re capable of, which is usually a lot more than you think.

In this day and age, scripts are useful but they’re not enough. We need less of the scripted-at-the-desk approach and more of the sculpted-on-the-fly approach. We need less tourists and more explorers. We’re increasingly faced with situations where the old way doesn’t work like it used to. When things get complex and keep evolving in front of our eyes, we need the ability to adapt in real time.

More than 2000 years ago, the Stoic writer Epictetus wrote “How laughable it is to say ‘tell me what to do’! What advice could I possibly give? No, a far better request is ‘train my mind to adapt to any circumstance’…in this way, if circumstances take you off script…you won’t be desperate for a new prompting.” In other words, a trained mind is better than any script.

To train your mind to be better prepared to go off script, here are a few tips:

  1. Decide on the thing you most want to happen.
  2. Strip it back to first principles.
  3. Take the first step.

Decide on the thing you most want to happen.

On our jaunts around the North of England, we decided that the thing we most wanted to happen was that we could come back and stay ‘well, that was an adventure!’ That guided our actions and put things in perspective for us. So, when you’re preparing to give that next big presentation, first ask “what do I most want to have happen as a result of this presentation?” For example, it might be that you want the audience to leave saying ‘that was really interesting and it got me thinking’.

Strip it back to first principles.

First principles are those concepts that you can easily remember and draw on time and time again. Whenever I teach a new skill, I aim to help people deeply understand the first principles rather than the tool or script that might go with it. For example, when I teach coaching to managers, I’ll help them understand the principle of ‘meet their people where they’re at’ if they want to have any chance of a successful conversation. When you rely on first principles rather than detailed scripts, there’s less to remember and more room to move.

Take the first step.

No change happens without action. The poet David Whyte suggests we focus on just taking the first step, not the second or the third. As a result, movement happens, and we’re on our way.

You’re more resourceful than you think. What can you do today to prove that to yourself?


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What Are Your Tentacles?


Recently, I wrote about ‘Brules’. Brules are the rules you invent that stop you from doing what you really want.

Something else that can hold you back is what I call ‘tentacles’. Tentacles are the things that just make it harder to get the good stuff done. They suck onto you, causing heaps of friction, and they slow you right down.

Tentacles burn time, attention and energy. They’re things like:

  • The to-ing and fro-ing of emails, or endless phone tag
  • The effort it takes to arrange meetings with the five people you need to contact to get something signed off
  • The to-do list you create for yourself at the end of a meeting, to be done sometime in the future.
  • The meetings you feel you need to attend but add no value to you or others.

I started thinking about tentacles as I’d been doing a ‘Hell Yeah’ Audit,  and was noticing that some of the work I’ve said ‘yes’ to in the past has felt so effortless. And some other work (thankfully not much) felt like it could have been a lot easier. I reckon that’s because that work had some tentacles on it. Way too many planning meetings, phone calls and email to get to where we needed to get to. Lack of clarity. Unclear priorities. Lurchy, messy, slow, frustrating. Blah.

When I do my best work, it doesn’t have tentacles on it. And I bet it’s the same for you. For example, over the past few months, I’ve been running a series of coaching conversations workshops for a client. Yesterday the client gave me feedback that I was very low maintenance to deal with, and that things just seemed to be on rails. I put that down to being explicitly clear at the outset about how things were going to run, automating the things that made sense to be automated, and nailing clear roles and responsibilities. Admin was minimised, and we were all focused on delivering the outcomes we wanted in the most effective way possible.

It was a joy to do the work. I was playing to my strengths, my client was happy, and participants got what they came for (and more). Nice.

Tentacles arise because of the choices we make. The choices we make arise from the way we think. Tentacles love a fuzzy mindset.

If you’re not clear about what you want, the way you can best add value, and what your boundaries are, the tentacles will inevitably find a way to suck on.

How To ‘Detentacle-ise’

Existing Tentacles: the ones that you already have to deal with.

  1. Audit. Do a ‘Hell Yeah Audit’. For the commitments that don’t make the ‘Hell Yeah’ grade, go to the next step.
  2. Prune: Your job here is to get rid of the tentacles as effectively as you can. Categorise them:
    1. Do: Some you might just need to do now, and be done with them. Make it fast. Move on.
    2. Delegate: Some tentacles rightly live with someone else. Have the conversations you need to have to hand them over.
    3. Renegotiate: Some tentacles might have some flex in them around their urgency or level of detail required. Ask the question.
    4. Dump: Some tentacles just don’t need any attention. Dump them.

(If you recognise these ‘D’s, you’ll know they’re derived from Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done work).

Incoming Tentacles: the ones that will suck on to you at the next opportunity.

  1. Think about what sort of tentacles might ensnare you. Decide what your priorities, boundaries and offers will be. Know what you will say and do when they rear their head. Remember, ‘No’ is not enough.
  2. Be vigilant for tentacles. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll spot them a mile off and be ready when they try to latch on.
  3. When a tentacle arises, get on the front foot. Make it clear how you’ll play. Do it in service of effective outcomes, and you’ll usually find the other party will agree.

Earlier this week, I had a client ask to book a planning meeting for an upcoming workshop I’ll be running in a couple of months. Rather than try to find a clear time, I suggested we do it immediately following an earlier workshop I’m running with her next week, while we’re in the same room together. She agreed immediately – it was the obvious and easiest solution. No tentacles there!

Tentacles slide off with a healthy, assertive dose of priorities and boundaries. Get clear on yours and get rid of those tentacles!


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No Is Not Enough

Want to get more traction with less friction? Here’s an idea that could be useful.

Let’s start with a couple of pretty common scenarios:

In a workshop this week, participants were discussing the challenge of making their next career move happen. I asked one of the participants what she thought she wanted in her next role. She automatically rattled off the things she didn’t want: a boss she didn’t connect with, a toxic culture, too many deliverables, messy politics, and having to deal with lawyers. When I pressed her on what she did want, she struggled for a coherent answer.

I’ve been working with an organisation that has what I’d call a ‘fire-fighting’ culture. The managers I dealt with seem to burn most of their energy on making short-term problems go away, rather than creating long-term, sustainable solutions. While they got a great adrenaline fix from being the ‘fixers’, they were generally exhausted (perhaps from the adrenaline addiction?) and reported that each year seemed more like last. Meanwhile, the organisation’s agenda was stalling.

In both situations, the people gave their attention to the stuff that is easiest to focus on (the problems) but the most distracting to making real change happen. In essence, they focused more on making problems go away, and less on creating what they truly wanted.

If we don’t like our job, we can rant and rave, blame the boss, and say “No, I don’t like the conditions, the stress, or the pay.” But it won’t get us anywhere in the long run.

If we don’t like the direction our organisation is heading in, we can rant and rave, blame the senior leadership, and say “No, that’s a crazy direction to be going in!” But it won’t get us anywhere in the long run.

If we don’t like things about the community we’re living in, we can rant and rave, blame the council, and say “No, that’s not what I want here. It should be better than this! Lift your game!” But, nope, it won’t get us anywhere in the long run.

In any of the above scenarios, you might feel better for a short while, but are you moving any closer to what you really want?

The problem with just saying ‘No’ is that we’re pushing away from what we don’t want. We stay stuck in a cyclical limbo pattern, with the problem disappearing for perhaps a little while, but inevitably reappearing some time, in some familiar form, very soon in the future.

There’s a saying in sport that ‘where you focus is where you go’. When I’m riding my mountain bike on a rocky trail, I find that I’m faster, and less likely to crash if I keep my focus on the trail ahead beyond the rocks. I focus on the scary rocks right in front of me, I tend to slow down, bounce over them, and lose my rhythm.

Naomi Klein’s latest book is called No Is Not Enough. It’s all about the rise of Trumpism and how to defeat the new shock politics. I’m not going to get into the themes of the book here, but I do think it’s worth highlighting the idea behind the title. Which is this:  if we want something to change, saying ‘No’ is not enough. We also need something else to say ‘Yes’ to. It’s not enough to know what you don’t want. You also need to know what you do want.

No Is Not Enough Pic.001

Unless we’ve defined what we do want, we get no real change. We need to create a compelling, pulling-towards force that leaves us no choice but to move towards it.

Robert Fritz, in his seminal book The Path of Least Resistance, says the hardest question in the world to answer is “what do I want?” It’s easier to say what we don’t want, but it’s a lot harder to decide on, and ask for, what we truly, deeply, desire.

Here’s a little exercise you can try. Think of a situation you’re less-than-satisfied with, and perhaps feeling a bit stuck in. Get a piece of paper and create two columns. On the left-hand side, write down everything you don’t like about it. Go on, make it a big catharsis. Now, on the right-hand side, write down the specifics of what you do actually want to have happen instead.

Now read down each column. Which one gives you more positive energy? My guess is the right-hand side. Choose one or two of those items, and put your efforts into making those happen.

My prediction? You’ll get more traction, less friction, and have a lot more fun in the process.



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