Paradigm Shifter #52: There is no such thing as reality – there is only perception

Paradigm Shift

Many years ago, I was standing in line in a bank when the teller told everyone, “Don’t anybody move.  We are in lockdown.”  I had “witnessed” a bank robbery.

Interestingly, none of the customers were even aware that the bank had been robbed.  So, when we were individually asked for a description of the robber, there was no agreement on age, height, weight, or race.

I’ve since learned that this inconsistency in “eye witness” accounts is common.  Does that mean that our realities are different?

What exactly is reality?  Is my reality the same as yours?  Should our realities be the same?

While we all think that we know what “reality” is, I was intrigued by these two definitions of reality found in a simple Google search:

  • Reality is “the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them” AND…
  • Reality is also “the state or quality of having existence or substance.”

Just because something exists makes it “real” – but our views of that person, object, action, emotion, or behavior can be significantly altered based on our notions or ideas surrounding them.

Although an existential debate about the existence of reality is far beyond the scope of this blog, it is important to recognize that the “reality” of the same situation can be strikingly different for each of the parties.  Our perceptions determine on what we will focus.

For example, a downsizing can be a debilitating experience for the employee who loses his or her job – yet that same downsizing can create a financial gain for the stockholders when it increases profits for the company.

In addition to recognizing that the same situation can have far different realities for its stakeholders, it is equally important to realize that our own perceptions substantially affect the types of situations that occur in our lives.

As we move forward in our professional and personal lives, the way that we interpret any event or person will be colored by our expectations, ethics, and attitudes.  A simple shift in these perceptions can drastically change our “reality” of the situation and either move us forward or freeze us in our tracks.

For example, even though your boss is widely characterized as being an inconsiderate micromanager, your own perception of the situation will determine how you respond to his or her demands.  Many factors color your perception:  your financial need for the job, the overall culture of the organization, your tenure with the company, your comfort level with your boss, and your unique background or experience.

Your perceptions, therefore, will influence your attitudes – which, in turn, will motivate your behaviors and responses to your boss’s style of management:

  • If you believe that your boss lacks the political power to actually do anything to reprimand you if you challenge his or her management style, then you might consider the blustering micromanagement to be amusing and innocuous.  The stress has been avoided and you will probably continue to stay with the company.
  • If you are highly offended by your interpretation of the micromanagement as evidence of his or her distrust of your ability to do the work, then you might actively challenge his or her authority or even file a complaint with HR.  The stress levels have been escalated and you might consider leaving the company.
  • If you believe that your boss is highly knowledgeable in your field and you can ultimately learn from him or her (even if you are micromanaged), then you might choose to invest more time and concentrated effort to meet these demands.  Rather than feeling stressed, you might feel motivated and appreciative of the close scrutiny – it is also more likely that you will stay with the company.

Same boss, same management style, but very different responses based solely on the different perceptions of the individual employee.

By acknowledging the role that our perceptions play in creating our reality, a new sense of confidence and resiliency can be created.

So, the next time that you are in a challenging situation, step back and critically identify the attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions that are creating your unique definition of your current “reality.”  Even small “tweaks” in your perception can have drastic results in your response to the “reality” that you are experiencing.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

More Ways to Create a New Way to Work: Free “Mini” Webinars Launch in March 2015

Coming Soon

As an advocate for a better and more humane way to work for over 20 years, I’d like to thank all of you who have liked and/or subscribed to this blog.  I hope that you’ve been discovering some creative ways to build a more successful and happier way to work!

Beginning in March 2015, in addition to my weekly articles and Paradigm Shifters, I will be launching weekly “mini” webinars.  These short (5 minutes or less) videos and slide shows will be absolutely free.  Topics include burnout, change management, creativity, leadership, and other areas that can bring humanism back into the workplace.

Look for these “mini” webinars to launch next week – and feel free to comment or share.  Together we can create workplaces that are both humane and successful!

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

Fear, Control, and Change Resistance

Change resistance - Push-Pull

Views on change are as diverse as the people who are the change leaders or the “changees.”

The need for change can range from a mere “tweak” to a fundamental transformation of the current status quo.

Change leaders can sound the battle cry for urgency or strive to balance changes with some level of consistency.

The “changees” (or those who are being asked to change) can wholeheartedly embrace the new reality or dig in their heels by undermining and resisting anything remotely related to the change.

No matter what the reasons for the change or our role in making those changes, I’ve found that people have a paradoxical view on change:  they may say that they aren’t afraid to change, yet their initial responses tend to resist the recommended actions that are necessary to create that change.

Interestingly since the ability to change is now a highly valued characteristic in employees, I haven’t met anyone currently in the workforce who says that they don’t “like” change.  Across the board, everyone says that they are not afraid to change.

Yet change resistance continues to plague nearly every change initiative that is launched.

For example, a young manager was asked to streamline the process for training employees.  Taking the current materials and workbooks as a starting point, he was excited and confident that he could make a difference – his enthusiasm and commitment to the project were tangible.

But when a suggestion was made to consider foregoing printed materials in lieu of providing the information on thumb drives to employees and changing the training from onsite to online and making it “on demand” rather than on a set day and time, a huge “caution” flag was waved.  Why?

  • Perhaps he was afraid to change things too much.
  • Perhaps he was unsure of his ability to successfully coordinate activities with the IT department.
  • Perhaps he was concerned about a potentially larger workload as a result.
  • Or perhaps he just didn’t want to.

But is this an example of a deep rooted resistance to change – or is this a “normal” human reaction to a suggestion that was previously completely off his radar?

Expect So-Called “Change Resistance”

I believe that pushing back when asked to change is a completely normal reaction that should be anticipated by both change leaders and “changees.”  This is regardless of the scope of the desired changes.

Having researched the change phenomenon for over 15 years, I’ve discovered that the greatest level of change resistance tends to result from fear and a perceived loss of control.  When we are initially afraid of a proposed change, the fear manifested as “change resistance” is closely related to our need to feel a sense of control over ourselves and our surroundings.  This control is perceived to be threatened when asked to change.

In the previous example, the young manager was new to the organization and unaware of the politics within the culture.  He felt that it was better to tread lightly and not radically change things too much, rather than ‘go for it’ and risk being penalized or reprimanded.  Was his initial pushback really a classic case of change resistance?

When employees push back in response to requests to change, the leaders of the initiative tend to view this initial reserve as a major obstacle to creating the desired changes.  In fact, many change consultants advise companies to make sure that “the right people are on the bus” – but the result can be the loss of many previously high value employees who might have initially questioned the wisdom, action plan, or timeline of the proposed changes.

These downsizings send a loud and clear message to the surviving employees:  “Don’t question, don’t resist, just do it – even if you see challenges that we might not have considered.”

Puleo’s Pointers:  How to Recognize the Interplay Between Fear, Control, and Change Resistance    

Change resistance will always occur in varying degrees when an organization is attempting to change.  I would add that change resistance also occurs when an individual is trying to make changes in his or her life.  Successful change requires “letting go” and moving forward to an as yet unknown future.

No wonder it’s scary.

By recognizing what we are afraid of losing, it is much easier to understand why we resist the changes by attempts to control our environments.  Usually this is through keeping things the same as much and for as long as possible.  Instead of jumping into the pool, we first want to check the depth of the water, stick our toe in to feel the temperature, then (after our fears are allayed) jump in and (hopefully) enjoy the swim.

Although simplistic, this swimming pool analogy represents the employee reactions in many corporate change initiatives.

  • Advice to Change Leaders:  Always include the employees who are expected to implement the change initiative in the preliminary conversations relating to the need for change as well as the potential paths that can be taken to create that change.  This not only assuages employees’ fears of the unknown, but their input gives them a sense of control about the potential outcomes.
  • Advice to “Changees”:  When asked to change, stop to take a reading of your initial reaction.  Are you afraid?  If so, what specifically is so frightening about these changes?  Determine what you can control – even if it is only your perception and reaction to the change initiative.  No matter what the circumstance, the only thing that we ultimately control is how we respond to it.  This understanding is incredibly powerful in minimizing our fears and reminding us that we still have a choice to control our own lives. Change is the only way that both organizations and people can move forward.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

Paradigm Shifter #37: Labels are not permanent

Paradigm Shift

The great motivational speaker Earl Nightingale stated that the greatest secret lies in 6 powerful words:  “You are what you think about.”

While this advice has often been used to help you dream about what you can become, I also believe that it reminds us that the past does not always equal the future.

Labels can be either positive or negative.  In every family, there is the “smart” one and the “artistic” one. In companies, there are the “lucky” ones and the “failures.”  These labels color our perceptions and assumptions about not only who we are, but also who we think others are.

The most challenging and destructive effect of labels is that they are predictive.  The “smart” child is generally not considered to be “artistic,” so he or she doesn’t try to learn an instrument or paint a picture.  When a “failure” experiences luck, it is often dismissed as a one-time fluke.

But the most destructive effect of labels is when the labels that we stick on others turn into biases, prejudice, and illegal discrimination.

There is an incredible amount of research on the negative effects of the labels used to discriminate against other people.  But what about the self-defeating labels that we use to describe ourselves?

The glue that adheres the “stickiest” of labels is often the result of what we believe about ourselves.  Consider these self-defeating labels:

  • “I’m too old to (fill in the blank).”
  • “Why should I even try?  I’m not the type of person to (fill in the blank).”
  • “I guess I’m just unlucky because I’m a (fill in the blank).”
  • “If I haven’t made it by now, I’m never going to make it. I’ll never be a (fill in the blank).”

Fortunately, there is hope:  the adhesives that we use to attach labels are not permanent.  By changing what we think about, we can change the attitudes and beliefs that construct the foundation of our future.

Instead of viewing the labels as unchangeable edicts about who we are, maybe it’s time to view the label as a reminder of our self-defeating thoughts.  Even if the labels that we use appear to be positive, it’s important to realize that everything can and will change.  The all-star high school athlete might not achieve the same level of success after school.  And the nerdy wallflower can blossom into a successful, charismatic CEO.

What labels are you using to describe yourself?  How would your life change if you boldly stripped that label from your self-identity?  What would happen if you also stripped away the labels that you use to characterize others?

Labels can only be sustained if we believe that they are indestructible and unchangeable.

There is an alternative to using labels that limit our opportunities and define who we are:  committing to living our lives truthfully, authentically, and without delusion.  It takes courage to recognize our self-imposed labels and their impact on our daily lives – and it takes even more courage to strip them away if they are not helping us to move forward.  By stripping away these self-defeating labels, we build the foundation for a new level of self-confidence that is both sustainable and adaptable.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

Letting Go to Go Forward: The Role of Serendipity in Management

Letting go

The cornerstones of managerial capabilities are:  Planning, Organizing, Leading, and Controlling.  This has been drilled into anyone who has ever taken a management course.

But are these cornerstones the only way to achieve success in an age of constant, unrelenting change?

Should the ability to allow “serendipity” also be an important competency in order to succeed when everything around you is changing?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, serendipity is defined as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.”  These things of value can be unanticipated opportunities (e.g., new markets or customers), unforeseen developments (e.g., technology or lifestyle changes), or even the unexpected chance to finally hire someone who had always been “off the job market.”

While we can plan for the future, no one can actually predict the future.  By focusing purely on actions that we assume will lead to our predicted results, are we really focusing too much on models and assumptions that blur our ability to see and respond to what is happening now?

Big data has given us the capability to drill down into the causes behind effects and outcomes.  By doing this, we can better understand the correlations between actions and results.  When we understand why, then we are able to focus our attention on activities that are aligned with these correlations – and not “waste time” on other activities.

While I’m a firm believer in analysis to understand the underlying causes of any event (either good or bad), I also firmly believe that sometimes we need to “let go” of these models so that we can be more responsive to what is occurring around us.

While serendipity describes those lucky instances when we find something good that we hadn’t anticipated, “luck” can also be defined as the result of preparation plus opportunity.

Are we spending too much time on the preparatory actions that we expect to result in success or luck – but ignoring the importance of being open to new, unexpected opportunities?

Puleo’s Pointers:  Creating the Foundation for Serendipity   

If you are anything like me, “lucky” experiences were often not the result of planning.  Instead, they were the result of being in the right place at the right time and with the right skills.  In order to create a serendipitous environment, it is important to not only plan but also to be present, curious, and available.

  1. Be ready.  Serendipity does not eradicate the need for planning.  In order to take advantage of unforeseen referrals, contacts, and opportunities, it is important to be prepared.  Have you developed customizable templates to immediately respond to an RFP?  Have you kept abreast of trends in your industry and created potential responses to them?  Have you mastered the necessary or desired qualifications that the opportunity requires?
  2. Be curious.  It’s very easy to become immersed in the minutiae of daily operations.  Look outside at not only what’s going on in your industry, but also what is happening in other industries – even if they don’t seem to be related to yours.  Many game-changing ideas are the result of modifying something used in an area that seems far removed from what you normally do into an innovative product, service, or process in your own field.
  3. Be visible.  Serendipity seems to rarely occur from judicious networking within your own circle.  Instead, the “luck” of serendipity is unforeseeable.  Chance meetings or events are often the catalyst for serendipitous new relationships, partnerships, or even joint ventures.  Expand your horizons both intellectually as well as geographically (Internet chat rooms, groups, and social media are great ways to accomplish both).  Create ways to move outside your current box.
  4. Be willing to let go of something that is no longer working.  This is perhaps the most difficult element of creating serendipity.  It’s emotionally draining to let go of something that sounded so good on paper, in order to pursue a new track arising from an unforeseen (but highly valued) source.  A well-crafted vision is critical to stay true to over-arching goals – but serendipity will stimulate new, unanticipated ideas on how to achieve that vision.
  5. Smile, relax, and realize that you can’t plan everything.  This shift in perception not only wards off burnout, but also enables us to breathe, explore, and move forward.  Planning (while a good and necessary foundation) is, in the end, only a plan.  Plans are road maps, but they are not the actual journey.  By being open to serendipity, not only can we better navigate the inevitable unanticipated twists and turns, but also allow ourselves to enjoy the ride.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

Paradigm Shifter #28: You can’t control it all

Paradigm ShiftTo all the “control freaks”:  your life will be much easier and you will be much happier if you recognize that you can’t control it all.

While this advice is easily given, it is often very difficult to receive.  Why do so many of us feel that we have to tightly manage and influence everything that happens in our lives – both professionally and personally?  Has it always been this way?

Or are our attempts to control merely an allegedly “proactive” response to today’s high degree of uncertainty?

There is increasing pressure to “take charge,” “take control,” and “take the bull by the horns” in order to manifest our destiny.  These attempts to control our environment, however, fail to recognize that the only thing that you absolutely can control is your response to any given situation.  That’s it.

Any attempts to control, manipulate, or force changes in your external environment frequently fail – probably because everybody else is also attempting to control that same environment in a way that reflects their goals.

As a reformed “control freak,” I recognize that learning to let go can be pretty terrifying.  Based on my own and others’ experiences, learning to let go is not a one-step process.  Instead, recognizing that we can’t control it all requires transformational changes in our perceptions and beliefs in several areas:

  • Perceptual Change #1:  Releasing the fears associated with being vulnerable.  To many of us, vulnerability represents gullibility and a greater probability of being hurt.
  • Perceptual Change #2:  Recognizing that we are capable of handling whatever challenges come our way.  Too often, we actually minimize what we are capable of doing and becoming, so we try to force changes in our environment in order to “ensure” that we will succeed.
  • Perceptual Change #3:  Accepting that we cannot predict the future.  NOT knowing what can or will happen is actually a good thing.  This requires us to be present in the moment (rather than continuing to “live in our heads” as we seek to control everything around us).
  • Perceptual Change #4:  Forgetting that the only “time” that we can control is the present moment.  The past has already occurred and cannot be changed; the future has not yet arrived and is only speculation.  The present is the only place where we truly live.

No wonder giving up control is so difficult!  These perceptual changes challenge some of the fundamental beliefs and values of control freaks.

But once we can make these transformational changes in our perceptions, a surprising thing happens:  we actually paradoxically feel more free and more “in control.”  Many of the fears about what might happen miraculously vanish.  Rather than forcing behaviors from others, we learn to trust others more – and, if their actions are not what we want, we surprisingly become more tolerant of those actions because we fundamentally believe that we can proactively respond to whatever life throws at us.

It is exhausting to be a control freak.  Even if we are controlling in order to make things better for others, eventually we become discouraged and disillusioned when our well meaning actions are not appreciated.  Why continue to put ourselves through this emotional roller coaster?  Learning to let go might be the secret to learning to fully live.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to


Inadequate Resources and Poor Performance: Should Employees Suffer the Consequences?

Failure when best not good enoughIn today’s workplace, employees are told to “make it happen” – even if the organization doesn’t provide the appropriate amount or kind of resources needed to “make it happen.”

While I understand that a still uncertain economy requires companies to try to “do more with less,” this lack of resources is often ignored in many performance reviews.  Even if the employee’s pleas for additional help were unheeded, he or she alone bears the brunt and negative consequences of substandard work in the poor performance review.

The employee is, therefore, penalized for not “making it happen” because the company did not “help to make it happen.”

My question is:  should the employee be blamed when the company did not meet its responsibility to provide the necessary resources to ensure that its goals were met?

I’ve posed this conundrum to several colleagues and received some interesting insights:

  • Some managers said that they take this lack of resources into consideration to a point during the performance review – but are influenced by the negative impacts of their subordinates’ poor performance on their own performance reviews.
  • Other employees in non-management positions said that they do the best that they can with the limited resources but simply stop caring – if the company cared, then the resources would have been provided, so the resulting subpar performance is “not their fault.”
  • Still other workers (both managerial and non-managerial) simply quit – by either resigning from the company or staying on the job but doing the bare minimum to “get by.”

Performance reviews are a critical process to ensure that the company’s workers are completing the necessary tasks to achieve both short- and long-term goals.  While many companies are much better at regularly completing performance appraisals, I’ve noticed that there is often a poor alignment between what the company says is important and the corresponding commitment of resources (both financial and human) to achieve those goals.

Puleo’s Pointers:  The Importance of Providing the Necessary Resources to Do the Work  

Is poor employee performance resulting from inadequate resources not evidence of poor employee motivation, but rather an indication of poor corporate planning?  In this situation, is it really ethical if the employees are blamed when their work “doesn’t measure up” – yet the corporate planners escape with no liability for these results?

The true costs of the relevant tangible and intangible factors to performance must be determined prior to the performance review.  ALL resources have an associated cost.  If the company is not willing to provide these resources, then perhaps it should rethink the feasibility of these goals for the employee.

  1. Don’t over-estimate the projected financial payoff of “doing more with less.”  Since payroll is often one of the largest line items on a balance sheet, the rhetoric is that profits will increase when costs are cut via downsizing, rightsizing, or layoffs.  Fewer employees equal less costs.  According to a fascinating Newsweek article, the projected cost savings and resulting surges in stock prices were often significantly over-estimated by organizations that frequently downsized to cut expenses.  Survivor syndrome (i.e., the feelings of stress, anger, and betrayal in employees who were not downsized) most likely contributed to these results.
  2. Don’t under-estimate the projected intangible or human-related costs.  While financial savings are often significantly over-estimated, the projected “soft” costs are conversely under-estimated or even ignored.  Employees must do the work associated with the achievement of any goal.  High performance is not a robotic act, but incorporates that which makes us human:  emotions, values, perceptions, beliefs, and commitment.  If the necessary resources to enable employees to do their best work are not provided, then frustration, anger, and resentment emerge.  The result is a decline in employee morale, commitment, and (ultimately) performance.
  3. Always consider the context surrounding an employee’s performance.  Be sure to look beyond the outcomes and consider whether there were factors outside the employee’s control that affected his or her results.  The psychological contract between the worker and the organization necessitates duties and responsibilities for both parties.  To many employees, a company that refuses to provide the necessary resources to do the job (1) does not truly understand what is required to achieve its goals and (2) does not care about its workers.  Withholding necessary resources not only destroys an employee’s performance, but also his or her confidence and commitment to the organization.
  4. Corporate actions reveal corporate priorities.  In a previous blog post (Poor Leadership:  8 Ways Managers Burn Out Their Employees), my research revealed that refusing to provide the right amount and kind of resources is strongly correlated with employee burnout.  Burned out employees are simply incapable of meeting the challenges necessary to perform their jobs to the expected standards of excellence.  I firmly believe that burnout is closely correlated with poor performance.  When developing performance standards, it is critical, therefore, to identify and provide the necessary financial, manpower, and time resources that these standards require.  Not only will trust be built, but also a foundation for goal achievement on both the individual and corporate levels.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to