The Change Decision 2022 Family Christmas LetterDec 28, 2022
Dear Friends and Family,
In previous years we have used the words “momentous” and “unprecedented” to describe the year. This year we are grateful to call the year Joyful. Many good things happened for us as a company. Much of that was because of the increase in the number of people we connected with through classes and webinars as well as organizations across the US. What made all of that so wonderful was guiding people in a crucial belief - the belief that Joy at Work is possible.
Also, good things happened for us personally with our last child graduating from college, a family wedding, and reconnection with many friends. Although COVID continues as a scourge around the globe, some parts of pre-COVID life have returned.
The month began with the world wondering “would he” or “wouldn’t he” as we watched Vladimir Putin mass more and more forces on the board of Ukraine. Saber rattling seems endemic to the region, so whether wistful or skeptical many predicted the unthinkable would not happen. It only took a few weeks to prove otherwise.
Meanwhile, in our corner of the world, the push for growing Joy at Work continued with a commitment to expanding our messaging channels. The first up was a new website. Roxanne started the work as an improvement project but it rapidly became a complete redo of the website then a redo of our core messaging, then a redo of our descriptions, then…another thing and another. It became a soul-searching process of what The Change Decision was for. But that was all months away. In January, we still lived in the blissful land of a spruce up to the website.
One of those “spruce-ups” was the reintroduction of our first audio course Create Your Personal Leadership Statement. Our website platform had introduced an audio course capability so we made some improvements and then launched the audio course. This would have significant implications for how we thought about The Change Decision throughout the rest of the year. We had described ourselves as “a change and culture consultancy focused on growing Joy at Work,” but, with a course on Leadership, were we that or something else? We would ask this question dozens of times before landing on an answer that would reshape our thinking about not only who we are, but what it means to have a successful organization.
But, like the website, the culmination of that was months away. So on we went further into...
On February 24th, Russia crossed the Ukrainian border with tens of thousands of troops and tens of thousands more in reserve. A major land war had returned to Europe. This escalation of a simmering conflict, which began back in 2014 when Russia invaded and then forcibly annexed the Crimean Peninsula, became the largest military mobilization in Europe since the Second World War. Like so many, we were at first stunned and then saddened. Thirty years earlier, as a young Naval Officer, Ed watched what became the end of the Cold War ushering a shift in focus that would alter the arc of his career and every other US military member. Roxanne was in Germany as the Berlin Wall came down, experiencing the euphoria felt by Germans as they reunited with family and friends separated by the Iron Curtain. As young adults, we were relieved that the looming threat, we had grown up to see as existential, was now eliminated. Here we were decades later watching that threat resurrect.
Still, we moved forward with the many parts of our work like Ed’s classes at the University of Richmond, regular monthly webinars, and national consulting work. More and more people reached out to us from around the country seeking guidance to grow Joy at Work. Even with restrictions lifting, many companies continued to have their employees work remotely. That made it easy for us to continue to work through video from our cozy office to do the consulting work for Change, but also for something else. Our work became more and more guiding leaders to move their organization to “the next level” whatever they wanted that to be. The answer to the question “what is The Change Decision for?” appeared to be guiding complete leadership teams in becoming more effective as a group. We would meet with them both individually and as a group often within their existing structures becoming a regular part of the team. We began to use the term “corporate anthropologists” as a way to describe this embedded approach we were taking to guiding companies to more Joy at Work.
This also got us thinking about how to measure leadership progress as our project for the…
As the months warmed, we watched the Russian advance bog down quite literally. As has happened through the centuries, large armies struggle to move through the plains of eastern Europe as the freeze turns to slush and the ground becomes boggy. Russia's column of mechanized vehicles strung out for miles was stopped on the road Kiyv. The expected lightning strike never materialized as Russia was revealed to be more paper tiger than superpower. In an unexpected turn, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky became a national hero and then an international beacon of strength in the face of one man’s raw use of force.
As we prayed for the people of Ukraine, we began to allow people to dedicate the revenue we make from our DIY guides to the Red Cross and their efforts to help the people of Ukraine. A drop in the bucket of what is needed but at least something. The idea for the guides came out of the website redesign. We wanted to provide a way for people to engage with our ideas and approaches with a modest investment of $2. Not enough to be too much but enough to cause a speed bump by requiring people to pull out a credit card. Our hope was that those who purchased were truly interested in the work and not just getting a freebie. And the money went to a charity. To our delight, those DIY Guides became great sellers! We have had far more downloads across our five (and growing) DIY guides than we expected! Especially with The Change Story DIY Guide. The feedback was that they were direct and actionable allowing someone to make an immediate impact.
We also dove fully into measurement and analytics. In nearly every engagement whether consulting or a training class, we found that people craved a way to understand the progress they were making. We did a complete redo of our previous analytics course including a rebrand to Data-Driven Change Management. It became a largely self-paced course with videos and practice files all wrapped around our semi-fictitious company Leadership Skyward. The course was inspired by the years of work that Roxanne had done in finding practical ways to understand the progress of her change work. We then added in Ed’s experience teaching analytics at the University of Richmond to create an accessible and practical course that was also analytically rigorous. We wanted people to prove to even the most hard-nosed boss that they KNEW what was happening in the change. We capped the course with regular live sessions that anyone who had bought the course could attend forever! Each session is a bit different with different data sets and different analytic techniques so attending several would be engaging.
We finished the spring, with our youngest child graduating from UVA! We were fortunate that the ceremony could be in person and also lucky to have great weather for the outdoor event. It was fantastic to see all the graduates as they walk down The Lawn and gratifying to reflect on all that our youngest has achieved.
And that led us to the beginning of a very memorable...
The people of Ukraine and President Vovlodymr Zelensky surprised the world by not only slowing the Russian advance but fully stopping them from taking the capital, Kyiv. You would have been hard-pressed to find an analyst that would have predicted such an outcome but we were watching it play out live. Although the conflict was far from over, it had taken a significantly different turn. With much of the rest of the world, we felt hope. Hope that Ukraine could not only prevent collapse but perhaps even win.
We also watch yet another lesson in the importance of purpose. A well-motivated group that sees purpose in its actions can defeat an unmotivated group that sees little purpose in its own actions. This is true in war and in business and seemingly in every human endeavor. Sadly, this meant the death of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians as well as Russian soldiers. Russia's army was beyond decimated (a term that means 10% were lost) and began pulling in less experienced troops to fill the gap. Many of those were from the non-white areas of Russia and not the more affluent parts of Russia like Moscow and St. Petersburg. A move clearly intended to keep low the level of discontent with those more elite groups. Yet, that was not to last.
We were fortunate to visit a much happier place. Our summer plans were front-loaded with a truly unprecedented event - a three-week vacation to Sardinia! We had not taken a vacation of more than 10 days - ever - in our lives. Now we were leaving to go to Europe for twice that time. How did we get to that decision? In a word: Instagram!
Roxanne had been looking at photos of the truly gorgeous beaches along Sardinia that were posted on Instagram. During the course of a conversation with friends who reside partly in Wales and partly in Singapore, the question came up as to where we might meet since we had not seen each other since before the pandemic. Roxanne casually mentioned the beauty of Sardinia. Two weeks later we were given an itinerary and plans were set! So in mid-June, we were on a plane to London to be full-on tourists for a couple of days. Then we met our friends who had planned the trip as well as another couple from Quebec. Three couples from different parts of the world all speaking different versions of English in beautiful Sardinia. It was amazing!
Both of the other couples had decades of experience running their own businesses, so every time we get together is a course on what to do and what to avoid. It is also an incredible exploration of the subtleties of three different cultures. For us, a fascinating time to talk about Joy at Work and what that can mean in different places and in different cultures. We always learn so much!!
Our summer finished with several family events. Our youngest, Anna, started Law School. Our soon-to-be-son-in-law, Jac, received his Naval Aviator wings on the same Naval Air Station in Texas that Ed received his thirty-three years ago. Then Jac and Caroline married. Finally, Caroline started a Ph.D. program in Psychology. All that in four weeks!!
Which had us falling into…
Although every Autumn doing our various courses is a big part of the season for us, this year was more so with our flagship Change & Joy, Change Management Certification course. It was awesome! Clearly our best effort so far with a very engaged group of people. They came seeking solutions to a variety of issues: Personal burnout, reluctant leaders, and business stress driven by hybrid work. Doing the class was a joy for both of us in part because of a significant shift in how we structured the class and in part because of the way every member of the class stepped in to help each other grow. The difference in structure was a significant move to creating recorded material for the concepts and using the live sessions on Zoom to practice and process. As a result, there was less lecturing in the live sessions and more exploring by each participant.
In doing the class, it became clear that this kind of interaction was something that people strongly desired and wanted to be able to continue. Even with a course that spanned five weeks and ten 2-hour sessions. It was not enough. There is SO much more to explore. So we decided to offer an Advanced Change & Joy course that we will debut in 2023. We also had a significant uptake in the number of people taking the Data-Driven Change Management course. After multiple iterations of all of these courses, we have found the sweet spot that makes them valuable because everyone can engage both on the concepts (which are recorded) and with others wrestling through the same issues (which happens live).
After a few attempts, NASA was able to launch Artemis I for her unmanned mission around the moon. That triumph of human ingenuity and perseverance was as inspiring today for us as adults as it was decades ago when we were kids. It was a reminder of the power of what we can do when we come together in teams to produce something no one person could ever do. It was a reminder of why we work so hard to make organizations work by growing Joy at Work.
The good news increased in Ukraine as well. The stalwart Ukrainian army continued to surprise us all by beginning to retake territory from Russia. After illegally annexing yet more parts of Ukraine, Putin’s beleaguered and ill-prepared army retreated in the face of a less well-equipped but obviously better-led Ukrainian army. Kherson, the only provincial capital taken by Russia, was retaken as well as large swaths of occupied territory. The prospect of Ukraine retaking ALL of its previously annexed lands became a possibility, albeit still far off.
Putin responded by calling for a draft prompting thousands of Russians to flee the country. Support for the war diminished in Russia as the reality of the debacle became more evident. Although hard-liners in Russia still supported the war, some began to criticize how it was managed. A major turn in sentiment for some of Russia’s elites.
With events in Europe continuing to surprise us all, we had one more big one to come in…
As we were writing this 2022 Christmas Letter a significant milestone in the Russian-Urkainian War surprised us all. The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky made a visit to the United States. Although he stayed in the US for only 9 ½ hrs, his impact was tremendous. Meeting with President Biden and addressing a joint session of Congress, President Zalenskyy made a stark contrast between Democracy and Autocracy. There are often muddled circumstances in any military conflict. Who is “right” and who is “wrong” are often not crisply defined. President Zelensky created clarity for us all.
Addresses to Congress are often diplomatic niceties that help connect the US to other countries. They rarely result in significant action or policy change. It is much too early to say what the outcome of this address to Congress will be, but it did elicit one important change. Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin finally dropped his euphemism of calling the invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” and called it what it has always been - a war. Will he be prosecuted under his own edict that makes it illegal to refer to the invasion as a war? All the world wonders.
This time of year, which invites all of us to reflect on peace and joy, has us thoughtful about Joy at Work and the possibilities of the new year. There is much left to do. Many still struggle to find Joy at Work for themselves and create the conditions for others to find Joy at Work. However, we have had success in helping several companies and now a variety of organizations openly talk about Joy at Work. Software firms, state agencies, and even banks have asked us to engage with them not just to drive a change or make a decision but grow Joy at Work! A happy surprise that gives us hope for the workplace.
May the peace and joy of this season be with you and those you hold precious!