by Tim Durkin
One thing certain about change is: it will never happen slower than it is right now. Look around and you will understand that change is the inevitable design of the universe. But the pace seems to have picked up lately doesn’t it?
So how are we to cope? What are we to do? More importantly, how are we to thrive? A good first step is relax and understand that you are not the only one who is affected by change, nor are you the only one that feels a little overwhelmed at times. We are all in this together.
The fact that politicians and self-interest groups mandate much of the change that is occurring doesn’t help us feel any better. Complaining doesn’t work, pouting doesn’t work, and resisting doesn’t work. So what works? That is the focus of this article.
First it is important to remember that there is change and there is transition. Understanding the difference is an important first step in successfully navigating the white water of change. In his excellent book Managing Transition, William Bridges points out that change is external while transition is internal. Change is something that happens to us. Transition is what happens in us. A company merger is a change; the process of our adjusting to the merger is transition. We get married. That is a change. What happens next is transition. We get a new boss, a new product or even join a new company. That is change. Becoming used to it and comfortable is transition.
One critical point to remember whatever your level within a company is that until the issues around transition are dealt with, change will not be successful. Please read the previous sentence. The most common reason change efforts fail is that management and employees fail to address (or even understand) the process of transition.
Transition consists of three phases: endings, neutral and beginnings. Let’s outline both the characteristics of each stage and a strategy to navigate each.
Endings is the first stage of transition. It represents the departure, the leaving. It is, in some ways, the most difficult as it is driven by the situation and outside of our control. As human beings the most pain we have isn’t from letting go; it’s from trying to hold on.
The primary emotion of endings is grief from loss. During times of change it is a good idea to examine what we are losing. Frequent items on the loss list include: familiarity, confidence, competence, friendships, status, and control, to name a few.
Grief has stages: anger, denial, bargaining and acceptance. The only way out of grief is through. Be aware that during the first part of change people will exhibit signs of grieving. Accept and even encourage this. But, remember what has to end has to end. Set (and keep) a date for the change to happen. If possible, compensate for losses. Give back something if possible. One of my clients started to charge for what had been free parking when the lot owner raised rates. He compensated by offering free mass transit monthly passes.
The true enemy of transition is an information vacuum. In the absence of fact people will MSU (make stuff up). Give information over and over and over.
Most importantly, throughout transition treat people with respect.
The second stage we go through during change is called the neutral zone. You will recognize the neutral zone because neither the old way or the new way is working. Many clients I have worked with have changed to new computer systems. The most frustrating time they report is when the old system is gone and the new one doesn’t do what they thought it would do. Anyone who has gone through knows exactly what I am describing. The neutral zone has been described as a leap of faith and I think that’s apt.
Other problems occur during this time. Frustration rises, productivity declines, anxiety rises, people feel overwhelmed (or at least whelmed), miscommunication is prevalent and absenteeism goes up. It is not a party. The key to pushing through the neutral zone is to normalize it. Explain
that this is a time when Murphy and his whatever-can-go-wrong-will law thrives. Expect it and deal with it. Frustration and anxiety will occur, confusion and misunderstandings will happen. This is the normal path of transition, expect it and accept it. Remember, if you can’t fight or flee…flow.
One final note about neutral. It is a time of great creativity. Utilize the creativity of those who are most affected by the change and encourage them to think outside of the box. Be careful however not to introduce additional change at this time because the process of transition will need to begin again.
Finally you have a sense that things may be settling down. There is acceptance of the new order. Transition is coming to an end. This stage is called beginnings. Key in beginnings is remembering what Neitzsche wrote at the turn of the last century. “A person with a why can live with any what”.
Make sure everyone understands four things: purpose, picture, plan and part. Purpose is the why of the change. Picture, as we are reminded in many books of faith: Man without a vision will perish. Create a vision and make it clear what the future will look like. Plan: Communicate the plan for the change, and Part: clearly state the role each person, each area plays in making the change successful.
Keep in mind: change is the natural order of things. A little understanding, a good deal of planning, and a great deal of respect will go a long way to making change a positive growth experience.
Tim Durkin leads individuals and groups from promise to performance. He specializes in helping manage through times change, teambuilding, sales and leadership effectiveness and personal development.
For reprint information or to find out more about Tim Durkin and Seneca Leadership Consulting, you can contact him at 972-523-5151 (972-394-5216) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.