Change is a concept with lots of different connotations for us. For many of us, it’s looked on as exciting or adventurous. For others, it represents something unknown or even threatening. Depending upon the type of change, it can even be viewed as all of the above. Most of us love changes when it involves others doing the changing, not us. If I get to stay the same and everybody else has to change, what’s not to love about that? We don’t say it that way but that’s sometimes an unspoken expectation. “My part of the organization is fine. Its the other group that needs to do things differently.” While we all would like to be in the groove, most of us want to avoid the groove becoming the rut. Wisdom (as Doug pointed out in last week’s blog) is knowing the difference.
The one thing we do know about change that affects us all is that with change, even positive change comes stress.
Why does that matter?
Dr. Rick Aberman, sports psychologist at Think2Perform helps us understand that stress can affect our ability to think clearly and make good decisions. Not all stress is bad. There are many forms of positive stress; exercise, getting a promotion, having children. The issue is when we experience too much change at one time, it can create an overwhelming level of stress. Too much stress in our lives makes thinking clearly more difficult. We tend to become impatient, have shorter fuses and disconnect from people in our lives. We also tend to go back to our old patterns of behavior, our old habits. Changing our own behavior then becomes more difficult, even problematic. One of things we can know is that with an increase in uncertainty or ambiguity brings with it an increase in stress. With an increase in stress, our ability to manage our emotions and think clearly decreases.
One of the things we tend to see in organizations is that when they decide to change, they may spend time explaining to employees the vision, the why, the what and the how but what they miss most often is helping people deal with the emotion that comes with change, any change. The pattern we often see is;
1. Organizations announce the change, talk about the why, what, when and how.
2. When people in the organization don’t initially embrace the change as the senior team expected, a second round of meetings is held to re-explain the change (more slowly this time since people didn’t get it the first time) and take questions from employees to find out what’s on their mind.
3. When change still hasn’t occurred, leaders and managers speak more forcefully about the change and begin to deliver the ultimatum “This change isn’t going away.” “We’re committed to this change and its time to get onboard.”
4. Repeat all of the above loudly with fear, intimidation and consequences to make sure people REALLY get it.
All that’s really happening is that peoples’ stress levels continue to climb and change becomes even harder. What people really need help with is recognizing how they’re feeling, putting that emotion on the table so that they and their leaders can begin to talk openly and deal with it.
Step 2 begins with helping people reflect on the bigger picture, the values and goals of the organization. Reflecting on what matters most helps us and others calm down. Once we’re calm, we can begin to think more clearly and logically.
Remember, the logic of the change doesn’t get in until the emotion gets out.