Monday, October 11, 2010

Navigating Seasons of Change

I spent the last 3 months dreading the end of summer.

Chicago winters are brutal, lingering in the air for an eternity. By the time warm weather hits, I’ve become so desperate, so driven to make the most of the summer that the constant fear of winter hangs over me like an ominous cloud on an otherwise beautiful day. It becomes a source of anxiety and pressure. Better BBQ at the park, better go to the beach, better hit that festival – winter is coming.

My fears remind me of the irrationality and emotion that come along with organizational change. Inspired by my aversion to this change of season, I’m sharing five simple truths to help you successfully manage change in your organization or in your life:
  • Truth 1: Navigating change is about more than just the change itself.
Many organizations find it sufficient to tackle change initiatives with training – they target the change, identify the behaviors that need to adjust and ensure employees are equipped to do the new work. All good, but not enough. That would be like trying to conquer my fear of winter by buying sweaters and snow boots in July. It’s often not the change but fear of the change that has the most drastic effect on performance. Thus, it is just as critical to help employees manage their irrational fears and emotions as it is to help them build tactical skills.
  • Truth 2: Uncertainty maximizes fear.
What is it going to be like? Am I going to be happy? Will it be painful? Will I adjust? Merely the uncertainty of the “impending doom” is enough make stress-levels rise. Even if employees have gone through similar changes in the past – as I’ve been through three Chicago winters – each future scenario is full of new ambiguities that can wreak havoc on our well-being.
  • Truth 3: The past can be haunting.
Memories of the bitter cold haunted me.  Digging the car out of the snow. Feeling the cold penetrate my being. Missing the great outdoors. Have your employees been traumatized by past change? At your company or perhaps at another? These experiences can maximize fear and elevate resistance, reducing productivity long before the actual change comes into fruition.
  • Truth 4: Gradual transition is critical.
Imagine waking up to a snowstorm following a beautiful summer day. Ouch. While a “band-aid ripping” approach to change may be tempting, it can also be traumatic. As autumn arrives before winter, it is easing me in and reminding me that non-summer isn’t all bad. Likewise, gradual progression -- allowing employees time to mourn their losses, say goodbye to the past and grow in feelings of competence -- is vital to any change initiative.
  • Truth 5: Positive stories powerfully uplift spirits.
My husband, inspired by the cooler weather, filled our apartment with Christmas music. Flooded with positive memories of birthdays and holidays, family and fun, I began to anticipate what might be this winter season. What exciting adventures will the new season, the new year bring? How can this change, which I once dreaded, be transformed into a season of new possibilities?

Now, I feel the brisk, crisp air, soak in the treetops of golden hues and let pumpkin spices delight my taste buds. Summer is over, and I’m surprised at how I feel: refreshed.  Granted, it’s not yet winter. But the dread of summer now feels like a foolish waste of energy. Whatever the cold season brings, I am reminded of the opportunities on the horizon.

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