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3 Things are Sure

You’ve heard it. Two things are sure – death and taxes. I’ll add one more – change. Change is sure. There will be changes at work, at home, at church, in the state and the nation. Some changes you choose, and some are imposed on you.

How can you make changes that matter, organizationally and personally, and be more successful in the process?


You Choose or Chosen for You?

When you chose the change, you’ll tend to adjust better though it’s still hard.

When change is imposed and you believe that change is needed, good, and welcomed, it will still be difficult, but you’ll do better.   If you believe the need for change is questionable, if the change is too dramatic, or if it happens too quickly the adjustment is hard – sometimes, really hard.

When change is dictated, some very predictable and uncomfortable experiences will occur, for individuals and in groups. If you are the one initiating a change that affects others, you must carefully manage the process if you want to avoid a massive storm with accompanying destruction. The primary focus of change management is the people involved.


Change, Learning, and Grief

Change and learning are integral to one another. If you change, you have learned. If you learn, you have changed.

Grief is always a part of the change experience. I like to say that grief is “learning to live in a new way.” Things are not and will not be the same. In the process, you struggle even to believe the change happened or is happening, you are sad, or mad, and gradually (hopefully) you come to a new way of living with the change in place. OR, you can live sad or mad, in denial, and in misery with the results of the change.


Examples of Change and the Aftermath

You’ve been driving your car for years with high mileage, but you love that car and it has served you well. Now it begins to give you trouble (that’s change) and drops dead. You buy another car (that’s change) and you must learn all the new things about the car – its feel, controls, how to make it fit you, and maintenance schedules, etc. You are sad to lose your old friend, slightly anxious or frustrated about the adjustments, but you’re glad to have the new car.

You’ve been working for the company for years, have enjoyed it very much, and have been profitable. Top leadership is changed, and the overall company culture begins to change. The company is becoming more inclusive (good change) but they just don’t do things the way they used to (unwelcomed change). You are confused and frustrated with the change. You want the old way back and are calling friends to vent.

You’ve been attending your church for many years; you raised your kids there and have many landmark memories associated with it. The church is adjusting its program and processes to do a better job of reaching and serving the community (good change). In the process, substantial changes related to organization, staff, worship, priorities, or you-name-it are made and now your church experience seems foreign to you (unwelcomed change). You are sad and mad. You want the old way back and call friends to vent. You may leave altogether.


Very Predictable Reactions

A very predictable set of reactions will present themselves with every change initiative. These can range from very mild presentation to a full-blown class 5 storm.

The Familiar Situation – You love the familiar. Think about it. It feels comfortable, non-threatening, and predictable. You are content with it or you would change it. Could what you sense as contentment be complacency? Could you be so comfortable that you’d rather not change and learn. It’s too hard, right?

The Unfamiliar – When you change the familiar or it changes around you, it will seem to be a strange and scary place. You’ve not been to this place before.

Stress and Defensiveness – When you first encounter the unfamiliar, you can experience anything from a little discomfort to a full-blown fight, flight or freeze response. The extent of the reaction depends on the nature of the change and how it came to be. You may get defensive and possessive of “your familiar place” and angry with who and what changed it. It’s the same stress reaction (anxiety) that occurs when you are threatened physically or emotionally – fight, flight, or freeze.

Groups Get Anxious and Herd – People in groups who are unhappy with the change will herd together, joined by some neutral or uninvolved individuals who are sucked into the anxiety. They will complain to one another about the change and often will not complain to the people who can help them to understand and adjust to the change.

Attack of Individuals – Eventually the change gets associated with an individual and their name is used to represent the problem. They become the problem and the real problem gets out of focus and, over time, can be lost to view.

Fragmentation/Loss of Focus on Purpose – Ultimately, there is a loss of focus on purpose and a fragmentation of the group or team. The individuals, groups, and the organization as a whole decline in health. The change effort can fail.

When you must initiate change, whether in your personal life or an organization, how can you guarantee its greatest success?


How to Keep Change from Becoming Craziness*

  1. Be sure the need for change is compelling. Change must be needed to improve health, life-satisfaction, or organizational productivity and profitability. Don’t change your organization just for fun or to feed your restlessness.
  2. Be sure the change is urgently needed due to crises or major opportunities. Be sure the change serves the maximum number of stakeholders.
  3. In organizations, create a change team that is powerful enough to lead the change effort successfully. In your personal life, enlist a support group (2-3 people) who will encourage you and hold you accountable for the change you want.
  4. Create a vision for the change, with specific goals and strategies for achieving it. Be sure to close all gaps by including actions, measurements, and a timetable.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate regarding the why’s and how’s.  When you think you have communicated enough, communicate some more. Use every possible means many times over. In your personal life, post reminders for yourself about why you wanted the change in the first place. Share your progress with others. Recommit daily to the change you want.
  6. Have the change team you created to model the change you want. In your personal life, staff your support team with people who are examples of the change you want to see in your life.
  7. Remove obstacles, systems, or structures that stand in the way of the vision for change. Encourage reasonable risks and out-of-the-box ideas, activities, and actions. In your personal life, look for ways that you may self-sabotage and are blind to it. Let your support team help with this.
  8. Work with small groups and individual power brokers to gather support for the change.
  9. Create visible, short-term wins. Recognize and reward them. In your personal life, be sure to celebrate and reward yourself for the wins along the way toward the change you want.
  10. Use the credibility of the short-term wins to change anything that does not contribute to the change vision. Add personnel and processes that will enhance progress toward the change vision. In your personal life, as you progress toward the change you want, remind yourself of past wins and continue to celebrate them. These reminders will encourage you as you move forward.
  11. Establish the new into the culture by improving customer experience, improved productivity, better leadership and management. In your personal life, as you move to the change you want, you’ll discover other aspects of your life that need adjustment to accommodate the change. Do what is needed to get there.
  12. Highlight ways the change has contributed to the success of the organization as a way of fueling completion and pave the way for future change initiatives. In your personal life, create a benefit board and keep it in front of you to remind you of why you wanted the change in the first place and how it is contributing to your success.

These are only the tip of the iceberg for successful change in organizations and your personal life.

Change management is not a bulldozer or chainsaw activity. It is an art and a science that requires leadership with insight and finesse in people work, with excellent soft skills.

If you, as the leader of an organization, or personally, want your change initiatives to be more effective in their processes, trust-building instead of trust-destroying, and successful in their outcomes, there is a way.   Engage True Course to support you with coaching and consulting as you become the change manager you want to be.


*Adapted from Kotter, J.P. (1995) Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press., p. 21.

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