With COVID and social inequity continuing to top our headlines, each of us is confronting change in our daily life.  As we think about those changes, it is imperative that we focus our attention on the changes that we can affect.  This month’s Q&A highlights a change a client needs to make and how an experiment can help him make that change.  Although others may not have the same concern as the questioner below, experimenting with change can be helpful to anyone seeking to solve a problem.

Dear Drs. Graham & McDonald:

Because of COVID, all of our team meetings have moved to Zoom.  My manager and team have repeatedly given me the feedback that I don’t speak up enough in these online meetings. They say it’s important for me to make contributions in a group setting. I know I need to follow that advice, but I’m relatively new to the team and am afraid I will say something that sounds stupid.
I don’t know how to make this change. What should I do?

Apprehensive Accountant

Dear Apprehensive,

We find in our work with clients that the idea of making a change can seem very overwhelming.  When framed as an experiment, it is much easier for clients to try out new behaviors. We tell them, “Let’s just experiment with X. Try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.” Framing the change as an experiment often reduces their apprehension.

People often hold back on making a change because they fear they will be stuck with the change, even if it doesn’t work. But the reality is that the changes that make us the most apprehensive, especially in the workplace, are not major life changes. (They’re not irrevocable, like deciding to have a child!) Just like any other experiment, you can try something new, gather data, and use that data to design the next experiment.

Before we address your question, it might help to consider an imaginary scenario. Let’s say a leader knows he needs to set a regular time to meet with his team. He doesn’t know how often to meet, what day to meet, or what time of day to set the meeting. Should it be via Zoom or conference call?  At the beginning of the week or the end? He can’t force himself to set up the meetings, because he’s afraid if what he decides doesn’t work out, he will experience failure. But if he tells his team, “We’re going to experiment with having meetings via Zoom on Thursdays at 9 a.m. and see how it works for everyone,” he is seen as merely gathering data. He will then solicit feedback about how those meetings work for his team. It may be that they will conduct a series of experiments, trying different days/times or other ways to share information.

You can apply the same principles to your situation. Design a small experiment in which you start speaking out in meetings. The first time you will say one extra thing you would not otherwise say. Then gather your data, and adjust your comments accordingly for each meeting. (Note that this same advice holds true for someone who received the feedback that she speaks too much in meetings.)

If we experiment with change, we’re more likely to find workable solutions. Instead of giving up when something doesn’t work, we analyze the outcome, tweak the approach, and try again. This is how we grow, professionally and personally! Whether the apprehension is rooted in communication changes or finding a time to go to the gym, experimenting with change can transform fear of failure into data-driven success.

Designing and deploying experiments to address changes you can control is a recurring theme in our Transforming Success® program. The first open-enrollment session of Transforming Success® Virtual launches in early 2021.  Until now, Transforming Success® has only been available to participants through company-based programs. We’re happy to extend the opportunity for participation to individuals (including those whose companies may choose to cover the cost). To learn more about Transforming Success® Virtual, click here.

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