In my last post, I talked about the tendency for change practitioners to extend past their capacity to meet commitments. The key to preventing the damaging implications of this is the thoughtful allocation of the time available, plus balancing resource expenditure with resource renewal. Think of this as creating a “commitment inventory.”
This is easier said than done. Some people find it helpful to visualize their commitments. For example, most of us can start with at least two circles—one for our personal lives and one for the time and resources allocated to facilitating changes within the organization(s) we serve.
It is vital to manage the intersection of these two boundaries. If the organization circle borrows too much from the personal circle over too long a period, we can grow to feel resentful about being “used,” lack of a personal sense of renewal, mounting tension at home, etc. Or, if the personal circle borrows too much from the organization circle over an extended time, we can falter on our professional commitments and jeopardize critical change projects and possibly our careers.
Of course, life is more complicated than this. Within each of these circles is another layer. Inside the organization circle are multiple commitments (projects to complete, tasks to perform, duties to fulfill, goals to attain, skills to develop, meetings to attend, emails to answer, etc.). If we examine the interior of our personal circles, we will also find more circles (family time, vacations, physical workouts, educational pursuits, health care issues, meditation/prayer/spiritual development, community/volunteer activities, etc.).
Managing the various commitment circles in our lives is fundamental to a sense of personal well-being and professional success. Even so, this is one of the biggest challenges facing change agents working on major endeavors.
Many of us take on these duties with inadequate preparation for properly managing commitment boundaries. Novices in our profession are particularly susceptible but even practitioners with many years of experience have difficulty consistently displaying the courage and discipline required for boundary management.
Understanding human behavior doesn’t make us immune to their implications. We know boundary management is vital to us feeling grounded and optimizing our effectiveness, and yet we struggle with balancing out all the demands pressing in on us.
Learn to Manage Your Individual Boundaries
Boundary management is not difficult to understand; just hard to consistently apply. The guidelines are actually very simple:
- Maintain an accurate assessment of the aggregate draw on all your time/personal resources for existing commitments. Include all promises (personal and professional) and if you have split duties, be sure to take into account your other responsibilities along with the duties associated with being a change practitioner.
- As best you can, determine what each new promise requires and ensure you have (or can allocate) the time and personal resources needed before you agree to any additional commitments.
- Know the boundary for each promise you have made and protect it. Be aware when you optimize, stretch, break, or eliminate altogether the border between your various commitment circles and be honest with yourself about what is happening.
- It is acceptable to shift the boundaries of one or more commitments unilaterally as long as you don’t jeopardize realization of whatever promises you have made. Establishing new expectations (re-contracting) is required when a shift could threaten an existing commitment.
- It is OK to borrow from one circle to bolster another…
- …for a while, but not for extended periods without recalibrating expectations with those affected
- …but not if the loan will jeopardize the first circle’s realization
- …but if the loan is substantial, the time/personal resource must be paid back
- Be willing to say “no” so your “yeses” are meaningful and reliable.
Bottom line: Only you know where your boundaries actually are on any given day, and what percentage of your total available time and personal resources are already committed, so don’t expect others to be the protectors of your borders. Our duty as change practitioners is to creatively squeeze as much out of our capabilities as we possibly can without overextending ourselves on a sustained basis. Living life over the “red line” on a sustained basis is not only self-destructive, it puts the critically important changes we are responsible for at risk.