Quick. What is your initial reaction when someone says, "We need to change the way we are doing this because of new regulations." Or, "We are going to be introducing a new software program." Or, “We need to modify our product launch.” If you are like most of us, your instant reaction may be negative, or at least somewhat resistant.
Change management experts tell us that over 80% of the population doesn't like change. So, the good news is that most of us are in good company! The bad news (or at least the challenge we face) is that today’s reality is all about change. As leaders, we must be ready to agilely and adeptly respond to changing customer needs, market forces, financial trends, and workforce dynamics, among so many other changes that confront us daily. The old adage, “Change is constant,” seems to be more true than ever (although it was initially said over 2,000 years ago, so you’d think we’d be more used to it by now!).
If you are part of that majority, there are ways to approach change that can help you weather our rapidly changing world. And even if you are in the rare 20% who easily embrace change, in your role as executives, managers or supervisors, you will be leading staff who may resist it. Understanding the psychology behind that resistance and asking yourself a few simple questions can help you more effectively approach change and can also be helpful as you coach and support your teams.
Understanding the Psychology of Change
Change occurs when something ends and something new or different starts. The period between these two points is transition. This is where we, as people, have to learn to let go of the old and to embrace the new. Even when change is positive, it is not uncommon for us to feel a sense of an ending or loss associated with that change. That sense of loss can be in areas of competency, security, relationships, purpose, or others. The more each of us understands this, the better we are able to deal with change.
You can move yourself through the change more easily if you ask yourself questions like:
What am I telling myself about the change? What do I fear losing? Competence, security, relationships, status, control, purpose or something else that is important to me?
Is it really true? Is everything I've been thinking about what I am going to lose really true? Often when we stop and think about these potential losses, it gives us the opportunity to put our fears in perspective and to consider what other possibilities exist. Including….
What can I gain from this change? New skills or knowledge? A sense of self-confidence? Better opportunities? Improved results? A stronger team? What would I like to gain? What challenges and opportunities are available for me because of the change?
How can I best respond to and involve myself with the change so that I have the ability to influence it and benefit from it? What first steps can I take to gain what I want from this moment? Consciously turn your mind to what is positive about the change. And if you can’t think of any “pros,” talk to others who seem more comfortable with the change and ask them how they think about it.
A critical point: Don't expect yourself or your team members to breeze through change - that is unrealistic. You must work at it, explore it, face the feelings it may cause in you. And, as a leader, you should give your team members the space to do the same, by including them in planning, dialogue with them about their concerns, asking them the questions listed above, and listening. And the more you do, the better you will get!
We must learn to live with and thrive in a world of almost constant change--to respond quickly and flexibly to new demands. You can expend energy resisting it or being frustrated by those who do, or alternatively, you can re-frame how you think about that change and begin to view it as a challenge and an opportunity for you and for your teams. You got this!
There are many additional strategies that you, as a leader, can use to effectively and proactively lead your teams through changes. Those will be the subject of future blog posts, so stay tuned!