At a time where change seems unceasing and often disruptive, navigating change successfully is a skillset that is instrumental to continued survival and growth.
Regardless of the type of change your organization is facing, a few guiding principles can help you weather through the turbulence. These principles are applicable equally to individuals and groups – try them out and let us know if you have other favourites you like to use!
Change is as much an emotional journey as it is an intellectual one; humans are multi-faceted creatures. Often intellect will be subsumed by the need people have to emotionally examine and accept change (or not). Addressing the need to change rationally is important; but equally important is addressing the emotional reactions to change.
Part of the emotional response involves values and aspirations at an individual level, and an internal assessment of whether the change will threaten any of those. “Gut” responses are often based on these kinds of internal assessments. Overtly, the behaviour is often labelled as “resistance” but is actually just a normal part of the psychology of change for every person.
What you can do: Acknowledge and validate your own and others’ irrational emotions as much as you do the rationality and benefits.
Before, during and after changes happen, there are often ambiguous periods of “maybe this, maybe that”, which will make people profoundly uncomfortable. We all like to feel in control and that we have influence on the events that are happening around us. During times of change this is sometimes drastically reduced. No one seems to know what’s going on, or people who should know, don’t seem to actually know.
What you can do: Be clear on what you know and what you don’t, on what you can and cannot influence. Knowing and communicating these boundaries creates comfort and increases trust. And finally, if you don’t have facts, ask for (or share) the process: if you don’t know an answer, ask (or share) what is being done to get to the answers.
During any change, you will experience times when you question decisions made by others, by yourself, or by the universe. The world may seem completely rudderless and the crazy-factor is out of control. These experiences are a normal part of adapting to changes. The bigger the change, the longer or more frequent these experiences may be.
Clearly identifying what matters to you, and personal actions related to that, will keep you anchored even when the world seems batty. Equally importantly, it will provide a sense of perspective and balance, so that you don’t have disproportionate reactions or join the crazy dance.
What you can do: Define and write down specific small, achievable and measurable goals related to your health, sanity and personal values during the change. These need not be related to work or the changing situation: “Each week, I will make time for a favourite activity with my family” or “Every day I will schedule a call to connect with someone important in my life.”
Schedule these activities into your week and stick to them: a balanced perspective is a powerful tool in navigating change.
Very few new situations can be perfectly forecast and perfectly executed. Tweaks will need to be made and occasionally new things will completely fail or break. Layered on to that, adapting to change is a challenge for most people. Everyone who is affected by a change will have some degree of nostalgia toward the “old” way (even if it was horrible, it was “our” old way). Suddenly, the familiar old and maybe broken method is endowed with a halo of glory and you may feel or hear from others that “it was fabulous before, this new thing is awful”.
Imperfect changes start to feel like an outrageously incompetent mistake. This is a slightly misguided and completely normal expression of grief that the old ways are gone.
Along with that grief is often an unrealistic expectation of the new situation: in order to compete with all that glory, it better be perfect! And when it is not, the disappointment is huge and disproportionate to the actual situation. Stress occurs when reality doesn’t meet expectations. To combat stress, expectations need to be aligned to reality.
What you can do: Set expectations with yourself and others on what really matters in the changing situation. Similar to #3, focus on the elements that are most important and most aligned to your values and business needs. Clarify what can and cannot be expected, where imperfections may occur or issues arise; foreknowledge is a huge factor in dialing down the disappointment.
During times of change, everyone is pre-occupied with figuring out how the change will affect their job, their social and organizational status, and their relationships with others. While all this internal noise is occurring (also completely normal), attention to external messages is erratic. As a result, you may find that although you shared messages with your peers and teams, they weren’t heard. Not surprising considering what’s happening inside people’s heads.
What you can do: Repeat yourself. Be kind, and rewind. No harm has ever arisen from repetition, and the more opportunities people have to hear consistent and repeated messages, the more comfortable and confident they will feel.
If you’re leading change in your organization, we want to know what worked for you! Share this post on social media and tag us to start a conversation.
Zoe’s oversight of projects and organizational change management helps identify impacts from and mitigations to changing technical environments for both Celero and Credit Union leaders and members. Zoe holds a Masters of Adult Education and Psychology, and has over 20 years’ experience in facilitating organizational change across multiple industries.