How I reluctantly became a change expert
One of my most prevalent childhood dreams used to be one of stability and consistency – growing up in one place, going to school there, finding meaning, work and love there and then settling down there happily ever after, surrounded by childhood friends and family.
Reflecting back on it now, I know that dream was in response to the contrasting reality I was experiencing.
A quick recap: I speak two native languages; I have lived on 3 different continents in 4 countries and 7 cities, and attended 8 different educational institutions between primary school and university.
No surprise then that I became really interested in change management theories and how to help people work through change – both imposed and desired. Because although not everyone has had as changing a history as I have or some have had even more – change is something that we all face in our lifetimes.
Change is simply defined as “make or become different”. So whether it is our height or weight or hair colour, our address, education or job title, our relationship or parental status that we have made or has become different, we have all experienced change.
Some change we don’t even blink at or argue with, whereas other change can be life altering and heartbreaking. Because death, grief and loss are all forms of change too.
In fact, Grief Recovery Europe defines grief as: “ the conflicting feelings following the change or end in a familiar pattern of behaviour”
And the infamous Kübler-Ross stages of grief model most people know and talk about? It has actually been adapted and used as a model of organisational change known as the Change curve (Figure below).
This all emphasizes the point I made in my previous post: “change needs to be looked at from both a strategic as well as an emotional angle”.
When it comes to grief and bereavement, I have already written some resources on that, so check them out here. In this post I just want to focus on the strategic angle of the changes we need to or choose to face.
3 Factors to manage change well
Sufficing to say, I’ve experienced A LOT of change in my life and at some point I realised I was getting pretty good at managing it. By pretty good I mean it began taking me much less time to move from the shock to the integration stage of Kübler-Ross’s change curve.
Both from my many personal experiences, studies as well as observation and discussion with clients I’ve worked with – I have identified 3 core factors that help you process change better on a strategic level.
Again, I’m not talking about grief and bereavement here.
The 3 factors are:
- Clarity & Communication
Whether you are experiencing imposed change at work or home or you are the one introducing the change – these three are crucial to help people transition from one stage on the Kübler-Ross’s change curve to the next.
This is pivotal to a positive acceptance of change – your conviction that things will get better after the change. The confidence that the change is the best decision moving forward. If you can’t realistically promise that to yourself or those you lead, motivating yourself or others towards accepting and embracing change will be painfully slow or impossible.
Because really and truly who wants to change something for the situation to become worse? You should probably be abandoning any such plans anyway – it isn’t called ‘onwards and upwards’ for nothing. No one is excited about signing up for ‘backwards and downwards’.
Despite being a child when I did most of my moving, I was fortunate enough that my parents always took the time to explain the reasons why we moved and why they were confident it was the best for us at the time. Personally being confident in them and in their confidence in their decision made it much easier for me to adapt to so many changes. So, be confident about the benefits of the proposed change and be someone whose leadership others can be confident in too.
2. Clarity & Communication
This counts as one because unless you can communicate it well, whether to yourself or others, something isn’t really clear. If the change proposed is not clearly defined and communicated, people will find it very hard to come on board with it, both practically and emotionally.
Imagine telling your team that they will be using a new machine to help with their work but no one (including you) really knows how it works, when the change should happen or what is expected. Or if you chose to change your hair colour for the first time, but the packaging came with no clear instructions of how to do it.
Confusion and lack of communication add to the already prevalent uncertainty surrounding change and therefore increase frustration and even depression, making it much harder to move to the integration stage.
In fact, this facilitates people staying locked in a vicious cycle between shock, denial, frustration and depression which all inhibit productivity. How clear you are and how well you communicate change will ultimately determine how long the season of unproductivity will last in which people are so paralysed by the uncertainty they end up doing nothing, or nothing much.
This is a great way to help people take meaningful ownership of imposed change – inviting them to co-create it. Business research has shown for a long time now that involving people in change processes comes with many benefits, including improved customer service, brand/business loyalty and increased return on investment.
In fact, the growth of client-centred, people-centred, user experience, customer experience etc. disciplines and job roles in diverse sectors, is a sign of this move towards co-creation with those that matter. No matter whether it is work, family or any other social unit, we may have internal and external customers.
If we only focus on the external customers, we will alienate the internal ones at some point which will have a negative impact on the same customers we were so keen on keeping. Whether the change is to win more profit, establish better customer service, or move the family – invite your stakeholders into the process of change and let them take some meaningful ownership. Don’t ask for feedback or insight as a tick box exercise and then disregard everything that has been said – this will just develop a deeper level of resentment towards the change and a sense of being disrespected.
Now I know, I’ve looked at it from the perspective of you being the one in charge of the change, but even if the change has been imposed on you, establishing these factors for yourself somehow helps with adapting better to the change. But if you don’t know where to start with your unique situation, contact me and we can discuss coaching you through it.
Change can seem like a curse word to many, but that is often because we are not used to it being managed well or not managing it well ourselves. Yet, it happens so often in our lives we can’t really afford not to know how to.
Here, and honoured to help,