In this episode, Dr. Elizabeth Moran visits us to share some golden nuggets from her latest book, talk about her career before making the leap of faith and working full-time as a coach and mentor, and discuss the levels of empathy every leader should have.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. We have a delightful guest with us today, an experienced leader, consultant, and executive coach who is passionate about helping teams and organizations successfully navigate any ball through change, something that affects every single one of us. Partnering with leaders and teams from Fortune 500 companies to technology startups, she has successfully supported large and small-scale transformations through practical advice and actions that simply leading through change makes a difference. So, welcome today, Dr. Elizabeth Moran.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: Thank you, Steve. What a pleasure. Thanks so much.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, before we jump into this interview, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Elizabeth. Prior to starting her company, Elizabeth Moran Transformation, she was Vice President of Global Talent Development at ADP, a huge name in the development and training world. Dr. Moran holds master’s and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies, a PCC-level coaching certification from the International Coaching Federation (which is hard to get), and a certification as a Neuro-Transformational Coach. She is the author of a new book, “Forward: Leading Your Team Through Change,” designed to make a practical change leadership approach accessible to all leaders throughout the world. So, with that, let’s just jump right into it. The first question I have that I’d really like to focus on is: Tell us about yourself, your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you. Then, how did you end up where you are today, Elizabeth?
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: Thank you, Steve. Well, I believe that, like all of us, some of it is planned, but a lot of where we end up is due to detours and rerouting opportunities. I have experienced a number of those. I started off not knowing what I wanted to do, and my dad, who was in business, suggested that I get into HR. So, I started there, mostly in recruiting, and then became a generalist. And then, quite frankly, I became disillusioned with it. At that time, HR, in my experience, was a place where they put executives when they didn’t know where else to put them. I think it’s come a long way. I decided to get a doctorate when I was disillusioned. That’s when I was like, “You know what, I’m going to detour, get a doctorate, and then I knew I wasn’t going to be satisfied with private practice alone; I wanted to get back into business. So, I did that, fundamentally because I didn’t feel done with it. I still felt like organizations, i.e. people, do a lot of unintentionally stupid things to demotivate people. So I really wanted to really help leaders do things and lead in a way that would bring out the best in their people. So I meander through different careers. I had, I’d say, another rerouting opportunity when Lehman Brothers blew up because I was there at that point. So I learned a lot. But then I decided I really wanted to get back in with a focus on specifically development, leader development, team development, and organizational development. And then, as you said, my last experience was with ADP and that was a wonderful experience. But I also knew I, at that time, wanted to write a book. I always wanted to have my own business. So I negotiated my way out in 2020 and finished the book and here I am.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s great! What a background! I love it. I love the fact that our listeners, who are so amazing, are we’re so honored and privileged to have them listening in. It gives encouragement as they try to make significant contributions both within their organization or to really discover what they’re all about and make that significant contribution. Hearing that people like yourself have gone through this and ended up in a place that’s really making a difference is awesome. Way to go!
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: Thank you. I appreciate so much the copy of your book. This is one of the things I loved about the message that you have is that we are whole people. There is no separating personal or professional; you might communicate differently depending on the context, but you bring your whole self. That is one of the things I loved about it, a common thing that we shared.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s a great comment, to bring your whole self and to be among the very best at what you do in the world. That’s the mark, and that’s an individual mark. You’re not comparing yourself to anyone else; it’s becoming your best. Well, I would love to hear about forward. Tell us why you focused on that. Tell us about the book, and how it is helpful to people, and then we’re going to get into some specific questions because I can’t think of many better subjects than this because we do face this almost every day.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: Multiple times for sure. For me, I have always been interested in the area of change. I have been privileged to learn from so many greats out there like Kotter stacking the deck. There are just so many wonderful books out there. For me, I felt there was a gap in what was available. When I started thinking about what I wanted to offer and how I could be of service, it was less about broad-scale tips and advice on leading through large organizational change, which had to do with, as far as I am concerned, managing both project aspects of a change as well as the people aspects. For me, and most of my work with leaders, it was about how I, as a people leader, could lead through a change that neither I nor my team had initiated. So, a change that comes down from decision-makers above or from some other part of the organization. The other thing that I was trying to tackle was, regardless of whether your company had a change management practice or not, I wanted to provide a playbook for people leaders. When they had to lead through change, they had some of the tools, conversation guides, and resources that would help them do that, specifically if they were encountering tough questions or concerns from their team. So that’s what I tried to cover. These books are amazing, with 300 pages of research that has great tidbits. But it was very challenging to source information for people leaders through all of that. Oftentimes, there were great articles with bullet points, but there was still a lacking of “how do I do this?” Yes, I know I should communicate better. But can you please tell me what specifically to focus on? Or if I’m dealing with someone who’s really struggling, how might I use that as an opportunity? So that’s where I really tried to get in because the leaders that I was working with, which is really where a lot of this came from, was my work with talented, overwhelmed, and under-resourced leaders who needed some help. And they couldn’t do everything, I’d say that’s the last thing here. This isn’t a boil-the-ocean approach. This is “let’s focus on a couple of key things you can do in a particular order that might make it more likely that your people will buy in as opposed to resist the change.”
Steve Shallenberger: That’s a great overview. Thank you for that. Now you have, as we looked at this, five simplified neuroscience concepts that really every leader can use to their advantage. Do you mind walking us through those? Would that be okay?
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: Sure. One of the things I’ve found, and this is one of the reasons I love this, is how do you take actions and put actions in place that are actually based on something other than intuition. And intuition is wonderful. And what you’ll find, and this is one of the things I loved about reading your book, because I think when we get to the golden rule we’ll talk about that or different things so I’m curious about your reaction to these. But everybody I’ve talked to when I ground in this, it doesn’t matter if they’re technically minded or emotionally minded, they love this part. So this forms a lot of the bedrock from which I offer actions and advice. So the first thing is what’s called the threat of uncertainty. And our brains hate uncertainty more than anything else. So what I tried to do with each of these things is to say, very simply, “What is it? And what does it mean for you as a change leader?” And when you specifically think about uncertainty, what people will tend to do is they will make up information and create a story that helps them make sense of anything. Even if it’s inaccurate, which is why we get rumors, why we get speculation. So, if you as a leader aren’t being clear about what is known but also what is unknown, your people are going to be struggling because they’re going to be making it up. So the threat of uncertainty is a huge one for leaders to pay attention to. If you don’t provide information, people will often just be left with anxiety.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: The next thing is negativity bias. And what that means is that our brains give three times more psychological weight to the negative than they do to the positive. That ultimately is a way to keep us safe; we’re always looking for what can go wrong. Once you’re aware of this, you realize as a leader, if I don’t have something that is positive or something that could be positive about this, then my team is going to be focused on the negative and what could go wrong, which again, all of this uncertainty, negativity bias ends up creating a lot of anxiety, which when the more anxious people are, it hijacks their ability to make decisions to take thoughtful action. So, negativity bias is a big one. Switch cost is another one. So what I like to say is, in our brains, we have an invisible geek in there that is calculating if the reward for us going to be worth the effort to make a change. So, in this case, whenever we make a change, there will always be a dip in productivity, as somebody’s learning something new and trying something out. This costs as a challenge because as a leader unless you motivate or reward, try something, and even make mistakes, most of the time people will not feel like the effort is going to be worthwhile. This is where you have people say, “Well, we’ve been doing it this way for so long. Why do we have to do it another way?” Well, they’re invested. They feel like an expert. They know how to do it. Why do they have to learn something new? Nobody likes starting at the beginning, again, particularly if part of your feeling strong at work is because you’re the go-to person. So again, I’m talking about switching costs and how you can work with your team to overcome that.
Steve Shallenberger: I just want to be sure I’m getting it and our listeners. Are you saying risk cost?
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: “Switch,” making a switch cost. So, again, when we are asked to do something new or different, we are calculating in our brain, a lot of it is unconscious, “Is it worth us making the effort to change?” And in many ways, there’s a risk element in there. So I think that’s great that you actually said “risk cost.” So, part of what you’re doing is how are you going to reward somebody for trying something new, particularly if they were quite happy in the way they were doing it.? Because it’s easy, as you know, like driving someplace when you know how to get there. If you have to go a different route, it’s frustrating. Because you don’t have to think about it when you do it this way, but then it’s something new. So I give an example of switch cost of when I was in Italy, and it was cheaper for me to live there, when I was getting my doctorate, versus San Francisco. So I moved there and I thought, “Oh, it’ll be a great idea to learn Italian.” So it was a great idea for a little while until I actually had to work at conjugating the verbs. And it felt like my brain was going through. It was exhausting. And even the encouragement of the Italian people wasn’t enough for me to make the switch. So oftentimes, we stay in the ideation phase; “Oh, this would be great.” The ideation phase feels good. “Oh, I’d love to learn Italian. Yes, we can make this change.” But then when you actually have to start taking the action, that’s when people can get discouraged and give up because it’s too much. The next one is analytic and empathetic networks. And this, to me, was a huge lightbulb moment. So we have systems in our brains that operated to simplify the analytic network is the part that helps us analyze data, stick to timelines, figure out a goal, and make sense of things. That’s one part. Another part is called the empathetic network. And the empathetic network helps us both recognize patterns and look at things that are new. So you talk in your book about innovation. This is where innovation happens. We can see things beyond the practical and what’s right in front of us. And it also helps us pick up on human cues and behavior, verbal and nonverbal.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: The kicker with this is when one is active, it suppresses the other. You can’t do both at the same time. Things to remember about this is usually we’ll have a preference for one or the other. And the other thing to keep in mind is most businesses reward analytic network activity. And unless you specifically, as a leader, are toggling between the two, because both matter when it comes to leading change, you are going to be missing opportunities here. But for me, and in my book, I’m more focused on the people aspects of change as opposed to the project aspects. One of the other aha moments for me was I remember, in places I’d work, they’d have a project manager managing a change. And it finally made sense why it was very difficult for the project manager to think about how people were reacting to change because they were so focused on an outcome or specific activity that had to get done; they were in their analytic network, they weren’t thinking about, “Well, how are people going to react to this?” So, it’s very important that people, leaders specifically, realize “I’m going to wear this hat right now or that hat.” The last one is optimism. And I think when most people think about optimism, they think about it as an end result to something that has gone well, and it makes us feel hopeful and good. In this case, what we know is that optimism is actually the fuel to create a positive outcome. So, I talked about it in the book, things you can do as a leader, it’s not about ignoring challenges or problems. And this also gets a little bit into the negativity bias. It’s specifically scanning for the good. It’s also, at the start, creating a positive vision of what could be possible, a positive outcome with a change, and giving people time to think and talk about that even if it’s painful in the short run. So, in order to do that as a leader, you certainly are talking to people about “Listen, why this change?” Not only what the change is, but why the change matters, and including what happens if we don’t change. But then that starts to getting your team to envision together what might be better for us, for our clients, and for the business as a whole; if we’re able to pull this off, what might success look like?
Steve Shallenberger: That’s great. It’s just not the five simplified neuroscience concepts that every change leader should know. And you’ve identified the challenges, but also what they should or going to be most successful at focusing on. So I like that. Be clear and provide the positive. In terms of the switch cost, help them see the rewards.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: So, a specific example of how you might work with the switch cost aspect with your team is instead of rewarding a new activity that they would have to do, instead of rewarding perfection, doing it 100% correctly and getting it done, you would reward somebody trying and making the effort. So you give them a chance to talk about it, what did they learn, even if it didn’t go so well? “That’s fantastic. I’m gonna reward you for that. Let’s talk about it on the team. And I’m even going to celebrate that.” That gives people more courage and it also helps them with a lot of the stress that can come from learning something new when they know it’s okay. And they will be celebrated for trying something new, even if it doesn’t go 100% according to plan.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s an excellent addition. And then, of course, the innovation dealing with the analytic and empathic network, and then the optimism, so that people have a reason to go forward.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: Exactly right. And this is why I think a lot of companies say on the one hand, “We want innovation. We want people to think about it.” But unless they understand the empathetic and analytic networks, they don’t realize that really, you might say you want that, but you’re rewarding for the analytic network activities. And oftentimes, you have to separate them out. So, for instance, at ADP, when we had an innovation lab for new technology, it was literally pulled out and moved to a whole different location. And now I understand why because it’s very hard to get innovation if the company is operating in the old way, people aren’t going to think differently. They’re also not rewarded to think differently. And a lot of what leaders say, “Oh, it’s okay to take risks.” And you’re like, “I don’t know, is it?”
Steve Shallenberger: Great. Analytic mind versus innovation lab. Well, let’s hit a couple of other aspects. Thank you so much for sharing this. We’ve all heard that communication is so critical, we all know that. And yet, some leaders do very well at that, while other leaders are really challenged with communicating change; they even are afraid to communicate. What’s been your experience about that? And what role should communication play?
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: When I talk about communication in the book, I not only talk about “Hey, here are some things you could actually say and some things you might want to consider before you have a conversation with your team.” What I also say is it’s not only about the what you say, it’s the how. So, communication in this sense is how do I create two-way dialogue? So, in the book, I touch on, when is it better to ask questions versus tell. So I talk about that. I also talked about, to your point, what’s going to get in the way of you communicating and what’re the common things. So I have four common things that are usually the leader kind of thing, it’s about why they don’t want to communicate. And I think you started to get there. One is, “Oh, my gosh! I don’t think this is gonna go well. My team is not going to be happy. And I actually don’t want to deal with the negative emotion, or I don’t have time, or I want to wait until I have all of the information I need about the change before I say anything because I don’t want to make mistakes.” So, from a communication standpoint, in the book, the first thing I say is to start with yourself, always. And if you have a hesitancy to communicate, treat that as wisdom, just don’t stop there. So what I do is when I outline “Hey, here are the four most common reasons I find leaders hesitate to communicate around change.” Then I say, “Well, what’s the wisdom in that?” And I say, “Well, here’s the wisdom; for instance, you would rather wait until you have all the answers.” Yeah, I get it, who wants to say the wrong thing and maybe create more problems? But what I also say to that is “While there’s wisdom, that has more to do what is best for you, which is maybe feeling comfortable because I have all the answers versus what your team needs, which is information even if it’s incomplete.” From there, I tackle that. So, feel good, know how you’re feeling about it, trust it, but then see if you can do a shift on that to say, my goal when I communicate, let’s say, “I’m hesitant because I don’t have all the answers.” If I switch my perspective here, which is, “My job isn’t to have all the answers right now. My job is to start the conversation, give the information I do have, and then open it up and get as many questions as I can. And I’ll know I’m successful when there’s a ton of them that I can’t answer yet.” So I help leaders, I hope, if I’m inside their brains, shift their mindset, which I think you also know, changes everything, to then you feel a lot more freedom and confidence about “Well, what kind of conversation am I going to have here?”
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, this is valuable information. I love your ideas and thoughts. How do you handle tough questions without losing control of the whole situation and having things go south in the direction you don’t want it to go but still invite people to engage because you want them to and you see the end game? And by the way, on this last one on communication, I appreciate that, it ties back to one of the challenges is the threat of uncertainty, I really see that people need to feel that they have some control here and understand it so they can make decisions, and it’s pretty critical.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: It’s very critical. I would love to just ask you a question first, and then I will begin. I think you’re 100% right, people are concerned when something goes down. So, for you, what would going south be?
Steve Shallenberger: This is a really good example. You might have one division that’s had contracts forever, significant contracts. And your partner, for whatever reason, because of the economy or supply chains, whatever, cuts the contracts in half. So, how do you give encouragement to your employees in that particular division if they feel like things are going south, and maybe they don’t see a future, yet there is a big future? And this company that’s been around for 40 years, and certainly whether those many times, that’s what I’m talking about. How do you move through that type of change and give them encouragement and some certainty when it’s not an easy circumstance?
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: Exactly. I love the way you set that up. So first of all, it’s happened. Because oftentimes, many leaders, the change has happened, and nobody may be involved you, so you might not be feeling great about the change either. This is why it’s so important to start with yourself. I think, sometimes, at least what I’ve heard, leaders feel like they have to be 100% on board with a change to lead through it. And this is when I’m saying, “No, you don’t actually have to be 100% on board.” One of the things that you said there, which was very obvious, was there is some negative stuff here, there are some things that are going to be scary to people. So I don’t have to change that. I’m going to use my authenticity as a leader to say, “Hey, here’s the situation. Here are some concerns I have.” And if I was in your shoes, here are some of the things I’d be worried about and thinking, actually, that particular phraseology, “if I was in your shoes.” I remember I saw a leader who was leading a division that was going to be shut down, so all 600 people were going to be losing their jobs. Now, that’s not an easy change to announce. This leader decided to announce this change eight months in advance, which there are a lot of people who said, “You shouldn’t do that, people are going to leave.” And she said, “Well, that may be the case. But I want to treat people with respect and dignity. I want to tell them what the plan is, and I want to give them the choice.” So, of course, they had retention bonuses and other things to keep people on board. But it was a courageous decision because there wasn’t a great way to spin that one.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: But what she did was, first, when you have to talk about a change, no matter how it is, you can certainly prepare in advance. Again, if I were in their shoes, what would be the questions I have, what are the concerns I have? It’s real, I don’t have to be afraid of it, number one, it might be uncomfortable and that’s okay. Number two is my job isn’t to make people change; that’s not my job, I can’t do that. My job is to provide the information that I can. And also, as I’m having the conversation, if somebody’s upset about it, simply ask them, “What is it about this change that’s upsetting to you?” And simply listening. Once you do that, you can then find out how to, as a leader, know what’s on this person’s mind, even if it’s difficult to listen. And it’s an uncomfortable conversation because emotions might be running high. If I don’t have to convince them, how do I just listen and understand and treat what they’re feeling is wisdom? So for instance, it could range from somebody, “You know what, they’re just upset because they really like the way things are going, but they just need time.” They don’t have a specific thing where they’re saying, “I don’t like this and I think it’s a bad idea.” They’re simply saying, “Ugh, another change, I’m frustrated.” Fair enough. Give them some time to get through it, and that might be all that they need. Somebody else might actually see something down the line, given their perspective, that’s going to get in the way, that’s going to be an obstacle. And as a leader, you would love to involve that person and say, “Help me understand what you’re seeing that we’re not seeing because that could be really helpful.”
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: So I present in the book, the most common tough questions you’ll encounter as a leader. And then I walk through how to handle that. When we go back to the “ask versus tell,” when we think about this, if straight up somebody has the wrong information, that’s a good tell situation, where you’re gonna be like, “Hey, let’s just clarify so we’re both operating with the same fact.” But if it’s an emotion and they have the facts, telling is not a great option. And that’s usually what a lot of leaders default to be because they’re just trying to get it done. But you miss an opportunity when you ask a couple of questions, “Hey, help me understand that. I think I might understand why you’re feeling that way, but tell me more.” When you ask, you’re actually not working as hard as a leader. You are giving that person an opportunity to join you to weigh in, and that’s the two-way conversation we talked about, so they will be likely to be more engaged. And also, what I have found is most employees want to do a good job, they care about their clients. And if they see a problem, they feel it’s their responsibility to let you know whether you can do something about it or not. So hearing them and understanding them will make it much easier for both of you to figure out what would be needed to help them get on board.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I am always amazed, Elizabeth, of how fast these podcasts go. We’re at the end. So before we signed off, we would love to hear any final tips that you have that would be helpful in navigating successfully change and ending up at the best place we can.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: I’d say, one piece of advice, which again, for me, goes back to the golden rule that you highlight, which is if there’s one thing you’re going to do as a change leader is to stop and take a minute and say, “If I was in this person’s shoes, what would I need if I were them?” So, treat them like what you would need to be able to get on board with this change. Take a minute and think about that and trust that information.
Steve Shallenberger: Great advice. We loved it. And Dr. Elizabeth Moran, tell us how people can find out about you.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: Thank you, Steve. People can follow me on LinkedIn, it’s Dr. Elizabeth Moran. Or feel free to check out the website, elizabethmorantransformation.com, where if you have some interest in the book or doing some work with me, we have some great solutions that are available.
Steve Shallenberger: And your book is available…
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: It’s available everywhere, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, you could check out IndieBound and Audible as well.
Steve Shallenberger: I’m excited to get it. I can’t wait. As soon as we’re done, I am gonna get that book and the Audible, both helpful. Well, we thank you for being with us. We wish you the best in all that you’re doing.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran: Thank you so much, Steve. I’m really very grateful
Steve Shallenberger: To our wonderful listeners, we’re so grateful that you could join us today. We are humbled by the fact that you join us because we understand that you’re working on becoming your best and open to new ideas, and that’s precisely one of the ways that we can grow and make a difference. So we’re wishing you the best today and always. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, signing off.
CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, and Community Leader.
Dr. Elizabeth Moran
Consultant, Executive Coach, Author