What My Sucky Family Vacation Has To Do With Your Change Effort…

Jessica Lee Leadership

It’s been weeks since we jettisoned our summer vacation, bailing early to lower our eventual therapy bills. Since coming home, I’ve pondered what happened so I’d be sure to not do that again. I now realize our vacation was a failed change effort.

Forgotten Lesson #1: Don’t think everyone’s going to be excited just because you are.

I found the perfect house. It sat in a grassy field that melded into mountains, in an area offering a welcome change from our typical gritty urban routine.3632260316_37415f6657 It was to be the most idyllic family vacation ever — until the kids, that is. They didn’t care about the mountains and grassy fields. The long drives to get anywhere and almost-daily hikes held no allure compared to the town’s toy store. And imagine their lack of appreciation for being able to sip morning coffee amidst chirping birds.

This wasn’t our first nature-based vacation, so why’d this one go awry? Let me tell you (did I mention the pondering?). We failed to create and communicate a shared sense of purpose: time together to build a shared love of nature and create those loving, long-lasting memories.

Now, saying this to my 9- and 10-year old girls would have resulted in well-deserved eye rolling about my kumbaya notions. Point is, we didn’t include the kids in the upfront planning, and we failed to share what the week would hold — the good, bad, and ugly. And OK, I clung to my vision of this vacation and was simply unwilling to yield (sound like any leaders you know?)!

Forgotten Lesson #2: Reactions to change come in waves.

The only week we could get began the day after school let out. Not great, but we rented it. We knew the kids wanted to kick off their summer with flexible, unstructured time after the relentless rigidity of school. We reasoned that where they got that flexible, unstructured time was less important, so we shoved them in the car at 8am that Saturday morning and every morning thereafter.

Leaders often bungle change efforts because they don’t account for the emotional ripple effect that follows any change announcement. Leaders — the first ripple — are privy to the need for change, the intended plans, and the personal sacrifices well before anyone else has a clue. They experience their emotional reactions and then let them go. As their ripple moves out, others appear, until you have the average worker — your final ripple. By now, the leader is earnestly working on implementation, rarely remembering to provide the time — and outlets — for their workforce to work through their own reactions.

Rob, my husband, and I were your classic leaders. We’d determined our course, dealt with disappointment, and plowed full steam ahead. Meanwhile, our kids were working through their transition during our vacation.

Forgotten Lesson #3: Use the right spokesperson for the job.

Implementing change efforts requires that leadership and direct managers communicate what’s happening, why, and what it means for everyone — particularly to each individual. Unless your organization is a rare one where speaking one’s mind and asking challenging questions is safe, another type of spokesperson is needed — one who knows what’s going on, who speaks the unvarnished truth, and who understands the business. It’s that person who’ll raise those issues that’ll sink your change effort before the last ripple disappears.

Rob and I have different communication styles with the kids. Rob tends toward, “We’re going on a 10-mile hike uphill both ways. Did I ask if you wanted to?” I strive to balance each person’s requests, which can lead to complete freak-outs when the results don’t resemble the denouement of any Brady Bunch episode. I may have been the right spokesperson but was mired in my hallucination of the ideal family vacation. We battled on, until we finally stopped, listened, and shifted course.

We left one day early and have lived happily ever after. And in case you’re wondering whether we did anything right, we created a nifty incentive system that rewarded enthusiastic acceptance of our rigorous physical undertakings. Our children are now using their newly earned magic kit to learn how to make us disappear so they can go on a vacation of their choosing.