I recorded this month’s episode of the Influence Change at Work™ podcast with Cassandra Worthy, Founder and Chief Enthusiasm Officer at We Are Change Enthusiasts LLC.
Unfortunately, due to some audio issues, I’m unable to publish the podcast recording. However, the lessons Cassandra discussed were too good not to share, so I’m posting the transcript of our conversation below.
“Listen” in to hear practical ways you can help people lean into their discomfort with change to see the opportunity it presents – with enthusiasm.
Q: I have got to know: What is Change Enthusiasm?
When I entered the realm of change, and being a champion of change and helping others, I didn’t want to create something that was just going to be a cliché kind of saying. We’ve all heard of a change agent, we’ve heard about a change optimist, but I wanted to present something that could be a usable strategy, mindset, belief structure to help people who were going through major change. Whether it’s change that’s just thrown into your world, it’s change that you’re leading, or if you’re actually in a leadership position and having to help nurture change in an organization. And that’s what Change Enthusiasm is.
Q: How does it work?
The first step is recognizing what I call “the Feels” of change. The stress, the frustration, anger, anxiety – recognizing that as a signal. It signals your opportunity for growth. You’re in a massive moment of opportunity when you’re getting these feelings and emotions. That’s the very first step of the strategy.
And then the second is placing yourself in that moment of opportunity, recognizing that you have options. You have options to explore in order to reach a better feeling, and subsequently a better result.
And the third step is making that conscious, productive choice towards a better feeling.
Simple, three steps. I know I make it sound easy. I know that it’s not. I’ve been practicing it for decades now, but it works if you can ingrain this as a mindset, as a belief structure. Then you’ll find when you’re in the throes of change, seeing it as massive growth opportunities, and you’ll be better for it.
Q: Why is it so important? What happens if people don’t have this process to use?
Without organizations really facing the emotional landscape of change, people will just walk out. Attrition rates go sky high, and people don’t really know how to deal with all those emotions. When you don’t give them a productive way of dealing with it, then the downward spiral happens, then all the venting, the commiserating, “This is awful, it can’t get any better, this is the worst, I can’t believe it’s happening to me, I’m out of here.” That’s the way that it can happen. You have to be very mindful of the power of emotion, and how to be able to leverage that to accelerate results and really find the better place, as opposed to that downward spiral to the depths of anger and frustration and stress.
Q: How did you come up with this? What was the trigger?
I’ve kind of had this mindset ever since I was working in corporate, and I started at Proctor & Gamble. It’s something that’s been natural for me. But it really became front and center in my very first acquisition experience. I’d been working for about 3 ½ to 4 years, and I transitioned into a recently acquired business. It was huge – a multi-billion-dollar acquisition. I was being brought in, not only to continue to deliver breakthrough innovation, given that I was a chemical engineer working in research and development, but also to help integrate parent company tools and processes.
But I walked into that business Day 1 with my mouth on the floor. I entered a brand-new business culture. The language was different, the behaviors were different, all those norms were different, and I didn’t know how to navigate any more. Everything that I had grown so accustomed to just didn’t work. And all of those tools I was supposed to integrate were met with – I’ll call it adversity. It was a very us vs. them kind of culture, and it was incredibly difficult and incredibly challenging.
I was fortunate enough to have a mentor. I was venting at one point, and she said, “You can get bitter, or you can get better. It’s your choice.” It was really those words that helped me start to put some language to this whole strategy and recognizing that I do have power. I do have control over my work experience. That’s what really got me started around this thinking, the steps, and how to put this mindset into action. I continued doing well in that business. I had more good days than bad days by working the strategy.
I tell people that when you do this, it’s going to look different than anyone else, because everyone wears change differently. While you’re working it, that better feeling that you’re reaching for might look like stress, because in that moment, stress feels better than depression. Or maybe it looks like annoyance, because in that moment, annoyance feels better than rage. It’s this continuum, continuing to reach for your better feeling and reaching better and better results. That’s what it’s all about. And really, you begin to serve as a point of inspiration. Because when you continually strive to be your best and reaching for your best self, people notice. People absolutely notice.
Q: Can you take us through these three steps a little more in depth, maybe with an example?
Sure. Let me give you an example of when I was in the throes of another acquisition, when I was the one being acquired. This was my exit out of Proctor and into another business. We were being absorbed into the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio. Upon transitioning, I was given a new manager. This manager had no idea who I was. They didn’t know about my tenure, they didn’t know about the company I had come from. And then soon after the close, they also started cutting staff left and right. So it was a very uncertain time for me and several of my colleagues, as you can imagine.
Well, during a budget review, this new manager looked at me, and he said, “You know Cassandra, I like you and I want to keep you, but I’m just not seeing a lot of value in having you around after the next two years.” Delightful! When he told me that, man, my mouth went dry, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. When I got back to my office, I pulled up my resume, I went on LinkedIn. I was feeling very panicked. I was feeling frustrated. And I was feeling worthless, thinking the worst had just happened, and I was about to lose my job.
But, fortunately, I am a practicing Change Enthusiast! In that moment, I felt the physicality of my mouth going dry, and I knew it to be the signal. I was in step 1. It’s the signal. I’m getting the feels. I’m feeling this anxiety, I’m feeling stressed out, I’m in this state of panic. And so in knowing the signal, I allowed myself to step into my moment of opportunity.
So now I’m in step 2. This is an opportunity. I don’t like what he just told me, but there’s an opportunity here for me for growth. So I started exploring options. This is what step 2 is all about. I started thinking to myself, “So this dude has just given me two years, but two years with a paycheck, and during that time, I needed to find another position. In my mind, it was going to be a better position, and the options I had were either I could explore that inside of the company, or I could start looking to see what might be possible outside of the company.
And so I made the conscious, productive choice – this is the third step of the strategy – to start exploring what might be possible inside that company leveraging my network. Simply in making that choice, I went from feeling that panic, that anxiety, that anger, to having a sense of calm, with just a slight hint of hope, recognizing that I was in that moment of opportunity.
I ended up working with leadership from a different organization in that company to create a role for myself. And it was a role that better leveraged my passions and skillset, because I had worked with them to cultivate it, and it was in an organization that actually valued my contribution. It had good promise for advancement as well. And it was a role I transitioned into just four months after I was told I wouldn’t have a position in two years.
By recognizing those feels, stepping into my moment of opportunity, weighing my options, and exploring what’s possible, I ended up creating this role that I absolutely loved. And, it was not an easy four months. I had to continue practicing the strategy. At any given time, a better feeling did feel like stress, because it was a very challenging time. But I created this role that I loved that was a clear next right step for my career and a huge amount of growth. When you can work this, that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about change, because I know and I trust and I accept that all of the really big challenging ones are all happening for me, and not to me.
Q: How does this relate to the idea of resilience?
Resilience is a huge part of it. I love working with my clients in more in-depth engagements because when you can ingrain this belief system and strategy throughout your organization, your organization’s resilience is going to increase 100-fold. I tell people that resilience is a muscle, and you’ve got to work it out. You can do that through failure – when we fail it’s a breeding grounds for growth and for learning – and also through experiencing change. I tell people the most challenging change experiences in my career have been the biggest resilience workouts ever. They’ve given me my ridiculous resilience chops.
It’s a muscle you’ve got to work out. When you feel like you’re in a really good place, you feel complacent, things are just even-keel, watch out! That’s a dangerous place to be, because it probably means you’re not stretching, you’re not growing, you’re not challenging yourself. I like to tell people it’s good to have a little bit of discomfort because it means you’re growing.
Q: You mentioned a little bit about building it into the culture of the organization. What does that look like? What are some things leaders can do to try to build change enthusiasm within their organizations?
I like to have people look for opportunities to fail, which sounds strange and maybe a bit counterintuitive, but I’m always hoping people will look to stretch themselves and get into realms that they’re maybe not the expert in, realms they don’t know as well, where they’ll have that opportunity to fail. And I like for leaders to give their direct reports that opportunity as well, whether that be a stretch in assignment, supporting or shadowing someone for a week or two, but giving them that opportunity to stretch and grow and learn something new and be uncomfortable. Looking for those uncomfortable situations is always a good way to build that.
And then the other thing — and this is more so for organizations that are going through key changes — when I’m working with clients, I create what I call Resident Change Enthusiasts, or RCEs. These are people who I’ve trained, and they’ve got this mindset, this belief system as ingrained in themselves as it is in me. They’re the ones that are working throughout the organization being a champion of the mindset.
I also train them to do what I call Signal Sessions. Have you heard of a venting session? People love to vent, especially when times are tough, when you’re upset and frustrated. And I honestly think that it’s a good thing, but the watch-out is when you’re not allowing it to be in a productive framework.
So, a Signal Session is a very productive way to invite people to come in and share, emote, let us know what’s going wrong, where the stress and frustration is, and then collectively recognizing that as a signal. And sitting in a room saying, “Yo, we’re in a massive moment of opportunity,” and then working together to brainstorm those options. It creates a very healthy environment for people to release that energy, to release that infinite resource of emotion, and then also have some options for how to productively move forward, and making conscious choice towards that better feeling. It’s also a way for us to celebrate wins. It’s always great when you’re going through all that change, you’re feeling stressed, you want to know that you’re not alone. And then to see people having wins, and championing the change, and getting out of that downward spiral and away from stress.
Q: I’m imagining this Signal Session, and I’m curious if there are any key questions you can ask to get people to share that kind of information? And how do you create a safe space for that kind of talk?
Well, number 1, keep it small. It’s always nice when it’s more of an intimate group, so I like it to be eight or less, with the RCE who will join. The best question that we start with is, “What are you frustrated about? With everything that is going on, what is your top frustration?” Folks are usually pretty honest with that, because the group is small, the RCEs are there, and there is a level of trust. We build that into the top as well, saying this is a safe space for you to share where your frustrations lie. That’s usually the best way to kick off the conversation, when people can just talk about what is it that’s frustrating them. And that’s usually where we start: with the signals, with the feels, with the frustrations.
Q: Do you usually ask leaders to be part of those meetings, or do you prefer they stay out of it?
Well, it depends. It depends on the leader, it depends on where they’re at in the change journey. But there are some instances where we absolutely want leaders to join, because we want to make sure that the leaders are engaged and in tune with the overall health of the organization. When a leader can sit down and hear the really real of what’s going on, and knowing that there’s an RCE or myself present as a non-biased moderator, then that creates an even safer landscape. It’s always nice for the leaders to remain in tune, open, and honest. And whenever a leader joins, I make sure that they too share their frustrations, and they get very clear and transparent with what they’re struggling with as well.
Often times, when you’re in the organization, you just assume senior leadership is doing this to me. They’re having a ball forcing all this change on us – which is so not the case. It’s eye-opening not only for the leaders to be in tune with the health of the organization, but also for the organization’s members to see, hey, they’re struggling too. They’re having some frustrations, and it’s not just me. So let’s figure out how we can progress in a positive way and move forward as a team. They’re not just having it out for me.
Q: Are there any indicators that you need to have a session like that? Are you watching out for certain behaviors?
Typically we know, because they are going through acute change, that the opportunity is ripe to have them. I’ll usually schedule them on somewhat of a regular drumbeat. When people know that the platform is open and available, we typically get folks who want to sign up and join in. Given the nature of the work and the client, there is typically opportunity for folks to have those types of open and honest conversations.
Q: Are you documenting all the information that comes out of that?
Oh, yes. Sharing it back with leadership, and like I said, we also celebrate wins. As long as the employee is willing to share, we celebrate wins out of Signal Sessions and include that in the communications strategy. That’s always helpful. It helps to gain that momentum behind the mindset and the fact that the organization is really striving to get to its best and continually looking for the better.
Q: What about those people who are truly stuck? They just can’t see the opportunity, or they can’t get past the Feels?
Truly stuck. That’s the difficult part and I’ve been there myself. What I will typically tell people, and this is what I do even for myself, when I’m in that downward spiral, and I cannot get myself out, typically the reason that’s happening is because you can’t detach yourself from the feels. And typically, that is what is hazing you to seeing the opportunities, that’s hazing your ability to see the options. The best way that I know how to get myself out of that is to release everything in my mind and focus on at least two or three things that I’m grateful for. And I rest in that vibration and energy of gratitude, and step away from all the other stuff that’s bringing up the feels, rest in the gratitude and try to revisit it. It’s in that moment when you can objectively view the feels as a signal that you then have that clarity to explore options and figure out, yes, this is an opportunity, it’s here for me, it’s serving me. I’ve just got to figure out how it’s going to do that. Typically, the stuck happens when the detachment isn’t there. My best way to do it is to rest in moments of gratitude.
Q: You don’t want to make change seem like it’s going to be amazing, because people will see right through that. How does that concept fit in with Change Enthusiasm? Because I have to admit, when I first heard about it, I thought, “Oh man, is this going to be all sunshine and rainbows?”
That is correct! That is not a rare question, I get it so often, especially with my disposition, and my level of high energy. When I say I’m the leading expert on Change Enthusiasm, they say, “Oh God, this is an overly-optimistic, sugary sweet, blah, forget it!”
So I have to couple that with Step 1 is recognizing the feels. And I always say the feels is the stress, it’s the anger, it’s the frustration, it’s the real side of change. The really tough side that will always exist. That’s the very first thing that I acknowledge.
The journey, and continuing to practice this, I guess the benefit, the intangible, is that you will develop this sense of enthusiasm for change that happens around you, because you develop that certain knowing that it’s happening for you, for your growth. But this is a strategy, this is a means, this is a belief system that absolutely meets you where you are in your change journey. If you’re frustrated, if you’re ready to leave your company, you’re angry, this meets you exactly there. And it’s not trying to tell you, “Hey no, it’s actually sunshine and rainbows. You’re being silly, it’s ridiculous. You shouldn’t be angry, this is the best thing ever.” No. It’s recognizing those feelings are valid, and they are there to serve you. They’re there for a reason.
Q: It sounds like Change Enthusiasm is more about enthusiasm toward the opportunity for growth, instead of enthusiasm for change specifically.
That is correct. You’re absolutely right. Yes.
Q: Where can people learn more about Change Enthusiasm?
I invite you to go to my website at cassandraworthy.com. You can also follow me on LinkedIn, where I put daily content out to try to add value. You can also follow me on Instagram, @Cassandra_worthy_speaker. My company is also on Facebook: We Are Change Enthusiasts LLC.
Thank you for having me!
Cassandra is the Founder and Chief Enthusiasm Officer of We Are Change Enthusiasts LLC, a Corporate speaking and training firm based in Atlanta.
With her BS in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech, she spent nearly 15 years working in Fortune 100 companies undergoing some of the biggest shifts ever recorded in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry. She’s played integral roles in multi-billion-dollar acquisitions, leading cultural shifts within both acquiring and acquired organizations.
Cassandra is a champion of change and the world’s leading expert on Change Enthusiasm, delivering programs of inspiration across any and every industry.