a thread through September – on being oneself…

I noticed a thread through my September conversations – I wonder if this will speak to you – I”ll post this on linkedin.com, tag you and then figure out what questions to ask… later. Let me know what thoughts you have, maybe easier over on linkedin.com

Check out The art of being yourself by Caroline McHugh – I’ve placed a link on this page – scroll to the bottom… http://shiftchange.net/resources/


Turns out…the quirky authentic you is the one we want to know – and the one who can be the most help – with both individual and organizational challenges.

asking vs. telling: the impact of humble inquiry on getting things done

Situation – We are all on a continuum as to what we value more in an interaction – are we more task-focused, or relationship focused?  Culturally, North Americans are said to be more task-focused: What can you do for me to help me achieve my task? Have you noticed the side order of remembering to smile to grease the wheels during task-accomplishment?  ‘Nuff said.  At the other extreme, one can prioritize developing and deepening an inter-personal relationship – we feel good, but did anything get done?

Target:  The funny thing is… in the long term, we get more stuff accomplished when working with people who are interested in knowing us, who care about us as people, not just as instruments for their own goals.

Proposal:  Read/listen to “Humble Inquiry” by Edgar Schein.  He describes how we can be collectively more effective at getting stuff done by engaging in humble inquiry, and bucking the expectations of behavior based on power and status.  We have seriously robust and constraining social judgements around asking questions and telling people what to do.  What does this look like? People with lower status/power are expected to ask the questions, while those with higher status/power are expected to tell and direct people what to do – heaven help us when we buck the trend!  Ed Schein helps me see how and why I need to buck the trend.  This is a long game for me – getting stuff done AND developing respectful collaborative relationships in the process.

Next Steps:  Pause my  swirling about in our cult of “busy-ness”.  Consider that I actually all know this, but fail to defend my  investments of time, vulnerability and effort in relationships – calling them “nice to haves”.  Read/listen to “Humble Inquiry” by Edgar Schein using the services of the fantastic Toronto Public Library – again. Talk about the potential of humble inquiry with others.

Thinking about an excerpt from “The Neurotic Behaviour of Organizations”

I hope to learn to serve my organizational clients better in their goals of organizational change and improvement.  I am curious as to what acquiring a deep understanding of “being in relationship” might mean for me and my client’s contributions to project teams and interdependent work relationships.

This excerpt inspires me to learn how to best apply these principles to helping people (and collections of people, called organizations!) improve:

“In 1987 Uri Merry and George Brown published The Neurotic Behavior of Organizations, in which they apply the principles of Gestalt therapy to the practice of assessing organizational effectiveness.  Most of the book focuses on specific aspects of organizational dysfunction, but the final chapter, “Using Gestalt in Organizations,” provides an overview of their methodology:

It appears to be possible to develop organizational change approaches and technologies by creating organizational-level analogies from Gestalt therapy… From a Gestalt therapy approach, there are the following reservations about the usual diagnostic process: (1) overemphasis on the past and cause-effect relationships in contrast to what is happening in the here and now; (2) overemphasis on a rational analytic model that restricts awareness; (3) overemphasis on intellectual understanding before moving into action; (4) too little use of participant observation and unobtrusive measures in collecting data; (5) a focus on illness rather than health.

The Gestalt therapy approach differs from the usual diagnostic mode in a number of ways: (1) Diagnosis and intervention are intertwined.  Diagnosis is not seen as a separate step prior to intervention. (2) There is an emphasis on gaining the client’s trust more than on collecting a substantial amount of information. (3) The consultant’s sensations, feelings and internal states are seen as important data. (4) The responsibility for the diagnosis is not taken from the client…

A Gestalt therapy approach to management development has been explicated and empirically tried out in a number of organizations… This approach to authentic management differs from the usual human relations approach on these features: (1) a focus on recognition and mobilization of the individual’s strength and powers; (2) a sharpened awareness of what the individual does and how; (3) an intensification of dramatization of “problem behavior” until a change of relationship takes place; (4) consideration of aggressiveness and conflict as valued vitalizing forces; (5) an emphasis on the individual’s own feedback; (6) an emphasis on strengthening the person’s competence and autonomy; (7) acknowledgment of the importance of increasing awareness of present behavior and completing it; (8) keeping values up front even when this means less disclosure; (9) an emphasis on increasing the individual’s competence; (10) involvement of the consultant as a participant, a director, and an activist…

When we speak of using Gestalt therapy with organizations or at the organization level, the fact remains that we ultimately are going to be using this approach with individuals or groups of individuals.

Source: http://www.edbatista.com/2009/01/gestalt-coaching.html

Let’s bust some myths!

I sat down with Michelle Ransom this past week for the second in a series of conversations with a Change Management Executive from the Watershed CI team. I think that you’ll find the insights and personal thoughts from Michelle, on the subject of Change Management, to be both thought provoking and enlightening.

So, with cup of coffee in hand and a break in Michelle’s very busy schedule, it is once again my pleasure to present to you an excerpt from our conversation.

PGG: Michelle, first and foremost, thank you very much for taking the time to sit with me;

I know that the audience is equally appreciative of the opportunity to hear from someone like yourself who, as a seasoned Change Practitioner, has experienced all kinds of situations in your efforts to help numerous clients with their transformational initiatives. Can I start by asking you: Why do organizations tend to resist change?

MR: I’m not convinced they do. In fact, this phrasing of “resisting change” has inadvertently set up the expectation of resistance and conflict, with the potential of creating a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. People do not resist changethey resist being changed. If people resisted change, I’m not sure that Apple would have sold quite so many gadgets, do you?

PGG: I must say Michelle, I love your spin on that question, and there’s lots of experiential evidence available that supports your point. I’m personally a believer that people, in fact, support the change they help to create, and I agree with you on your Apple analogy. Moving on, I think that many organizations are slow to buy in on the need for change, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are on: How you sell change to an organization?

MR: Let’s back up a step. Organizations are simply groups of people, small or large, right? We should think about participating in change, rather than selling change. How about we ask just one person at a time to make a change – for example, about breakfast. What if we ask someone to change from eating cereal in the morning, to eating toast? What would be the first thing you’d say?

Yes, you’re right. We would start with “why” a la Simon Sinek, https://youtu.be/sioZd3AxmnE and explain our rationale. We then would invite two-way communication – asking what the person thinks and feels about this proposed change, and respond to their perspective and insights. If we don’t ask, we won’t be able to co-create the best way forward, in concert with the people we are inviting to the change. Yes, some change will be mandatory – even then, we know that we get the best results when engaging others with respect and participation. We can make change stick when we see ourselves as partners with shared accountability for change.

PGG: I love that you referenced my most favourite TED Talk with Simon Sinek, and I appreciate the detailed response. I’m a huge fan of Simon, as well as partnering and collaboration as a way to achieve great results. If I may, I’d like to stay on the subject of engaging and communicating with people by asking you: How do you ensure that all stakeholders are informed at each step of the change management process?

MR: We can’t. Here’s where we really learn that “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink”. The good news is there are at least three things we can do: a) We can identify stakeholders who are impacted or who can impact our project; b) we can build structures for these groups to have meaningful two-way communication; and c) we can be clear about what the anticipated impacts are for each stakeholder, as best we can. I’ve seen successful cooperation and knowledge-sharing on social media platforms (e.g. Yammer), with newsletters/blog/podcasts, town hall meetings, steering committee meetings, webinars and interactive workshops. I’m sure there are more ways that have been successful for others. It comes back to communicating shared accountability for change, encouraging people to seek out what they need to learn about the future state, letting the change team know if they need anything more to be ready – and feel ready.

PGG: Thanks for that Michelle, and it’s clear that Communicate, Communicate, Communicate, sits as soundly in your approach as it does with that of your peer, Dana Bellman, whom I had the pleasure of speaking with two weeks ago. It’s great to witness the alignment around this subject matter. Now, I won’t keep you much longer as I know that you need to run, and so my final question is: How do you ensure that a change is transparent fully across an organization?

MR: I smell an assumption here. We need to confirm that transparency is a value that the organization’s leaders have for the change initiative. If yes, then we need to start with the leaders demonstrating, through their own communication and behavior, that transparency is the expected and desired way of communicating. Leaders need to make it safe for others to be transparent without fear.

I might suggest here: “Be careful what you wish for”, in that transparency may not serve the initiative. There are many good reasons that a change initiative might be measured and cautious with communications. It may serve to be “transparent” AND private at the same time. We can be open and transparent about the process of making business decisions, without having to know the final answers and the final impacts. Sometimes we shouldn’t see how the sausage is made – it can create confusion, uncertainty, and many requests to change the recipe. Although it opens us up to the criticism of “not being transparent”, it can be wise to wait for key decisions to be made collaboratively with the critical stakeholders. We can then calmly help people (from all stakeholder groups) to get ready for the change when we know what we’re dealing with.

PGG: Well I must say that wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but nevertheless a point very well made, Michelle. I, for one, thoroughly appreciated your response, as I’m sure that there are many of our audience who would line up with you too. Thanks very much for your time Michelle and for a most enjoyable conversation.

Michelle is currently engaged with one of Canada’s largest power companies, working on building out the Strategic Change Management Plan, where I’m positive some of the points made by her in this interview will be of real value.

Michelle Ransom, B.Comm, MSc Organizational Psychology, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt (CLSSGB) 

Michelle is a pragmatic professional with more than 15 years’ experience in financial services, healthcare, government, and energy. Aligning improvement projects with strategy, she has led projects with budgets up to $6M, 30 team members, impacting 1000+ employees, with durations up to 2 years. She has developed a reputation for high work standards, creativity, approachability and making change stick. Michelle founded Shift Change LLC to continue to provide operational improvement and organizational change consulting services. She is also the founder of Ideacircle, a non-virtual community of practice (and blog), sharing experiences to improve organizational outcomes.

As a Patient Consultant to the Advisory Team of a multidisciplinary team, Michelle has designed and tested iterations of the hospital discharge form to inform patients and care-givers of after- hospital treatment to reduce re-admittance and improve outcomes. She has coached health insurance company CEO, COO and Chief HR to launch initial organizational change strategy, focusing on leadership development, metrics, job fit and self-guided communication teams. Michelle has secured start-up and ongoing funding to launch a new health-technology research group at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

Curious about the Accountability Group?


Update 25Apr17:  Thank you to the April cohort of the Accountability Group!  I am grateful to my co-facilitator Christine Martin and the participants for coming together to hold ourselves accountable.  We agreed that the “secret sauce” was the “Troika Consulting” experience where we would bring a challenge to the group to get some fresh -thinking!  This is the key difference between this group and other accountability groups, like mastermind groups, on-line groups, success teams, et al.

My wins?  I am grateful to the group for giving me new eyes. I learned that I was holding quite tightly to a “story” of my own making w.r.t. a consulting project I’m launching.  The group offered a different perspective that threw me off my hamster wheel of thought.  Additionally, the group challenged me to question some of my behaviours as “people-pleasing” and challenged me to put myself first.  THANK YOU for the shake-up!

NEXT STEPS:  If you are interested in being part of a future cohort, please email us at the address below!

Additionally, we plan to experiment with a conference call format to see if we can replicate the success, with less of an impact on fossil fuels (thanks for cycling, Christine ;).  We have no intention of giving up the IRL meeting, but will keep iterating and innovating, as we have already done with the Slack.com group for last years’ cohort.  Thanks to @IdasLevato for helping with this.


Thank you for your curiosity! As part of our community involvement as volunteers in Regent Park, Cabbagetown, and Riverside, we are excited to invite you to join this peer-to-peer group.

If you would like to be part of this life-changing event – not kidding 😉  – please send an email to accgrouptoronto (at) gmail (dot) com.  

We will reply with news of the meeting logistics and answer any questions you may have.  For background on the group, click here.

We wish you all the best for reaching your dreams!

Michelle Ransom & Christine Martin





Bonus!  View this TED talk  http://www.goodnet.org/articles/ted-talk-week-your-life-purpose-in-5-minutes , and keep that in the back of your mind…

What is the Accountability Group?

For the past 2 years, Accountability Groups have helped us meet our goals.  At the beginning, people’s goals were primarily work-related (finding employment /contracts/new business etc) but individuals quickly found that personal goals like time management, work-life balance, and health were actually at the core of our productivity.  This is a no-fee community group, run by volunteers.  Read on to see if this could help you too!


Q:  What is the purpose of this group?

A:  The Accountability Group helps entrepreneurs, individuals and job-seekers to reach their goals. We do this by creating a space for people to hold their own feet to the fire, connecting into the energy of group collaboration. Freelancing, independent consulting, entrepreneurship, job-hunting and the like can be isolating activities. We have used a private virtual community on slack.com, and the brainstorming and support comes to life at frequent in-person meetings in Toronto IRL.  This is a no-fee community group, run by volunteers.

Q: What are people saying about their experience? What did they get out of it?

  • “Michelle’s Accountability Group was a great keeping our projects in focus. I joined the group to help keep me and my project on track. Because of the group, I was able to measure my progress in an objective setting. I would work with Michelle again, and found her to be innovative, intelligent and funny.”
  • “Joining Michelle’s Accountability Group in 2015 helped me to stay focused on my start-up venture, at a time when it felt like it was going nowhere. Thanks to this group, I received honest and pragmatic feedback to help me with start-up and workplace challenges. Our small group brainstorming discussions were respectful and supportive. I look forward to working with Michelle again – she is very approachable, with a wealth of knowledge, and a tremendous amount of positive, creative energy”
  • “Michelle’s accountability group was an incredibly helpful resource that assisted me in launching my private practice. I joined the group to help me clarify the steps I needed to take and to keep my business plan on track. Through the group I was encouraged to take risks and push outside of my comfort zone to effectively promote my business.”
  • go to this link for more testimonials

Q: How do you help each other at the in-person meetings?

A:  We have in-person meetings (as frequent as weekly, sometimes monthly, depending on the needs of the individuals in the cohort) where we use this standing agenda to deeply focus on each person’s challenge/roadblock of the week.  See the standing agenda here.

Each person receives 10-15min of intense attention on their specific roadblock, using a technique called Troika Consulting.

Q: Have you used any on-line tools to help with accountability?

A:  Some groups wanted to experiment with virtual support, others have preferred the in-person experience only.  We have used a group on slack.com, where we post weekly progress reports following the 5-15 method  (15 min to write, 5 to read and/or written at 5:15 on Fridays!). Group members read each other’s reports and generate ideas to help each other with the “challenges/roadblocks” section of their report.  Here is the article/format.

Q: I’m curious. How do I learn more?

A:   Please send an email to  accgrouptoronto (at) gmail (dot) com

Why do you get out of bed in the morning?

I think we should “Start With Why”!

This has been an affirming reflection.  I’m happy to spend my time and grey matter on projects (for work or volunteering) where I can contribute and learn something –however, I’m a stickler about the mission.  I want my time, energy and thoughts to be directed towards a mission I can get behind.

Last year when I said “no thanks” to a couple of potential consulting projects (including one with an international processed food company) my motivations were questioned.  I countered that if I couldn’t engage with the mission of the organization and the problem we were solving, the client wouldn’t be receiving my highest quality work, which would be both unfair and inauthentic.   Then the universe (actually Dr. Daniel Schroeder) led me to a quote that explains my orientation:

 “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” (Simon Sinek)

Enjoy this TED Talk by Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why.

What is the purpose of the work or activity you are engaged in right now? What is your cause? What are the underlying beliefs? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning?

“People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it” –Simon Sinek

Are you with me?  Do you do your best work when you are engaged with the mission?  Of course you do.

* * *

Thank you to Dr. Daniel Schroeder of Organizational Development Consultants in Milwaukee for the book – I “won” it at a presentation of his earlier in the year.  Now I understand and appreciate his enthusiasm for this book, and am joining in to share the ideas more broadly!

An Open Letter: Thank you, Toronto Homecoming June 7-10, 2012 (TH’12)

IMAGINARY FLOWERS:  Thank you to the entire group of organizers, hosts, speakers and participants.  I had a wonderful experience – the result of much targeted brainpower, thoughtfulness and attention to detail.  Imagine the bouquet of thank-you flowers I am sending you virtually (use your old-school imagination please) as you are in different offices across this fine “Toronto Region” (thank you Mitzie HunterCivicAction for the language here). 

Thank you to:

Andrew Graham and Eva Wong Scanlan:  for absolutely everything… except the seemingly 40 degree walk in high heels up to MaRS on College.   Note to self: wear the shoes, take a cab.

Martha Yordache and Tiffany Blilley:  Thanks to you and your BMO colleagues for the engaging panel discussion and the luncheon.  I appreciated the straight talk from Karen Berlin about why BMO and Toronto are great choices for combining challenging work with a satisfying life.  Guillaume’s and Adam Richardson’s enthusiasm was contagious and Tim Empringham’s ability to blend his entrepreneurial side into a big bank was impressive as well.

Faye Thorek:  for making it personal, for  the “intellectual curiosity”, and for being living proof of a successful international family that continues to choose Toronto happily.  Bol’shoe spasibo.

Beth Wilson:  For getting us excited about the opportunities and for proving that Toronto is a global city – by describing KPMG’s choice to house the global services centre in Toronto.

Todd Friars:  For sharing the highlights of your career at Loblaw, and for describing some current strategic initiatives- including a focus on execution, SAP, Joe Fresh, and ecommerce.

Earl Miller:  For your shameless enthusiasm of the MaRS mission.  It’s contagious.

Morten Friis:  For the brief cocktail party talk about how Canadians might have be a little quick to pat themselves on the back for the stability of our financial sector.  I enjoyed your straight-talk perspective.

My fellow TH’12 Participants:  Do you think it possible to forget all of you?  Watch this space for another open letter describing what I learned from all of you!

DISCOVERING TH’12: I was casually searching Toronto events to encourage a close friend who wanted some networking inspiration.  I stumbled upon Toronto Homecoming (good SEO work, guys) and was excited by the promise—for me.  From the beginning of my interactions with TH’12, I felt in good hands.  Wayne Pommen and Kristen Edmonds facilitated the logistics of the Financial and Professional Services stream, and warmly responded to my questions and my suggestion to have a separate LinkedIn group for the 2012 cohort.  Thank you both!  Having the LinkedIn group enabled a few of us (namely Helene Wong, Michael WatsonEduards Smirnovs (any movement on Latvian House? ) , Aaron Vale and Oren Kedem) to  get a head start.

ARTISTS AND INNOVATORS:  Thank you to Sameer Vasta,  Chris Crowell, and Mathew Bertin for facilitating a lively conversation at the Emerging Leaders Network reception on Friday night.   Thanks to the Artists for being curious and trusting enough to crash the Innovators party with me.  You know who you are.  As I said when we threw open those big boardroom doors, I understand that innovators need to communicate their ideas… and who better to collaborate with than Artists who often communicate complex ideas to their audiences?  Thanks to all for this intersection of perspectives.

“O CANADA” WITH TEARS:  Or, how to pull at the expat’s heartstrings:  After a lovely time on Centre Island with the TH’12 crew, ably facilitated by Kevin West and Chris Edey, I walked along the waterfront.  Thank you for arranging for that musician to play “O Canada” on a Chinese violin.  All that pride in the integrated Toronto Region community became clear to me listening to that version of “O Canada”.  I was not wiping away tears, it was just the setting sun in my eyes! J.  I was an easy target and a good tipper, satisfied?   At the farewell Sunday brunch, councilor Michael Thompson implored us to “fall in love with the city… or rekindle your affection” –I was already there.

Thank you for the opportunity to get excited about the possibilities – with new friends, new contacts and new professional possibilities.  As you heard from me at the farewell, I am happy to volunteer in the future with this vibrant initiative.


Michelle Ransom

Decision architecture goes door to door

Shortly after I wrote about Decision Architecture/Choice Architecture (in the previous post), someone appeared on my doorstep to demonstrate.  A volunteer canvasser rang my doorbell, and encouraged me to vote.  Some details are changed here to protect the innocent.  Here is the conversation:
me:  “Yes, thank you for volunteering.  We plan to vote.”
her:  “Great!  Do you know where your polling center is?”
me:  “Yes.”
her:  “Great!  Will you be voting in the morning or afternoon?”
me:  (confused, then annoyed with what I initially perceived as invasion of privacy) “We’re voting!  Why do you ask if it is the morning or afternoon?”
her:  “I don’t know.  I’m just filling out this form they gave me.”
The decision architects set up the form in such a way that the cavasser’s question made me picture the location of the polling site.  She (courtesy of the form) then had me think about when I would complete the task – turning it into an action that I had to do either in the morning or afternoon.  Before I (or any other survey respondent) would be able to answer, I would have to imagine my upcoming day, and whether fitting the voting task in the morning or evening would be better, thereby mentally cataloguing it as a “to-do” on that day!  And on top of all of that – verbally commiting to it, and seeing it written down on a form – well – the survey architects just clinch the deal.  Without even the least bit of assistance from the unknowning canvasser!
I was very impressed with the simplicity and expected results of this.  I wonder what the statistics have to say about the results?  I suppose if it wasn’t effective they wouldn’t be doing it, would they?  Any one have any data or experience with this?   I’m going to be watching out for more examples as this is fascinating to me!
Oh yeah.  The election.  Oh well.  Maybe the technique didn’t work quite as well as they expected:  Scott Walker wants national role.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO as “choice architecture” or “decision architecture”?

Yes, I’m late to the party, but I recently picked up the 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Cass Sunstein and economist Richard Thaler. (And the whole truth is that I’ve only skimmed a bit of it, but I won’t let that stop me!)

Choice architecture describes the way in which decisions are influenced by how the choices are presented (in order to influence the outcome). The book proposes that default outcomes of a situation can be arranged to be the outcome desired by the person or organization presenting the choice. This can be used with a micro (small individual decisions, like how much popcorn to eat) and macro scope (social policy, encouraging retirement savings through taxation rules, etc.).

I found myself thinking that those of us involved in consulting, coaching, change and communication do a lot of “choice architecture”. I was musing along these lines to a friend, and incorrectly remembered the name of this concept as “decision architecture”. Later I googled or wikipedia’d these terms and was surprised to see that they are used very very differently!

“Decision Architecture” doesn’t exist on wikipedia (fancy that!), but is used here in



User Experience Magazine to describe how to design a website to guide the users’ choices of clicking and navigating and buying. Quite a micro scope indeed – or on second thought, maybe I’m quite mistaken – could be a big deal if you’re designing for amazon or ebay.

Check this out….the eponymous company Decision Architecture Associates describes themselves as…”specializes in the application of advanced quantitative methods to business decision problems”. It takes the term in a whole new direction, doesn’t it? Oh, but on second-look, the website hasn’t been updated since 2008, so maybe this definition didn’t have legs.

Now, all this lead in to ask the question:

Can we usefully employ these terms
choice architecture or decision architecture
to describe aspects of our work?


// follow this discussion on our LinkedIn group