What is it about change that makes it so difficult for people to process?
Is it the overall complexity that change brings? Or is it the level of comfort that existed prior to the precipitating change event?
One aspect that I have been thinking about recently is that our aversion may not be to the change itself but the awareness that the current reality exists in concert with the new reality.
If the answer is yes to both of the above this makes for a confusing environment.
Consider the following story as an example:
As a member of an organization, “Bob” has a job to do that he has been doing for approximately 24 months. He is competent at the craft and has built some good relationships with people on his team and with this customers. As a matter of fact, Bob’s supervisor rated him as exceeding expectations last year which is really quite rare for only being on the job for 2 years.
Then all of a sudden, the organization says it needs to change how it operates. They have to become a more Holistic Organization. This new structure isn’t really going to be structure at all! It is more of a self-managed, self-organizing network of people who are going to get everyone closer to the customer and to each other. Out with bureaucracy, and hierarchy, and consensus.
The consultant who gives the presentation to the company called it a “Teal” Organization. Bob had to research it and learned it was something called Spiral Dynamics which is a new consciousness for business. Teal Organizations are agile, lean, flexible and responsive to the environment. It all sounded great until Bob started to get a little anxious. Like how flexible? So flexible that he won’t be needed? Feelings of real anxiety started to sweep over him.
Teal organizations, since they distribute decision making to the lowest levels of the organization, require a level of trust, emotional intelligence, creativity, and intuition not previously required. There is a great sense of the work that is being done is for the good of, indeed the survival of the organization and that the individual interests of the contributors are taking a back seat.
As Bob contemplates his old paradigm he feels paralyzed between the drive to consensus that used to exist and making decisions for the good of the organization (which by the way, Bob remembers is what consensus was supposed to do).
He wants very much to succeed in this new world order, but not sure exactly how to do that.
Yes that was it. How was he supposed to come to work today and be inclusive with all his business partners and at the same time make decisions on his own?
He feels tremendous uncertainty in what his role is and a lot of ambiguity in how he’s supposed to do his job.
And then, his wife says that maybe they should not have bought their new house.
This did not help calm his thinking.
I know how our protagonist in the above scenario feels. I remember when I first got married, in fact, my wife Kim and I were on our honeymoon. Now, for any person marriage brings on a very significant change. On the morning of my wedding I woke up single, but by 1 pm that afternoon I was married. This was a new reality that I did not fully understand.
I was excited about the change. I anticipated with a positive anxiety the reality that was ahead. And unlike many who experience change in an organization, I was a willing participant who was choosing this destiny.
For our honeymoon, my bride and I set off on a Caribbean cruise. Seven fun-filled days just the two of us. On our first night at sea, we were walking to dinner. I was so excited to eat because the number one thing people told me about cruising was that the food is outstanding. Or, maybe it was the fact we had skipped lunch and I was famished. No matter, when I got to the dining room I turned around and Kim was nowhere to be found. Where could she be? So, I started retracing my steps and when I rounded the corner there she was…just standing…and waiting.
“Whats wrong?” I enquired. “Are you OK?”
“I am fine,” she said. Then she went on and delivered the truth that helped me realize my new reality. “You are married now, and I would really like to walk to dinner with you and not behind you.”
Ouch! What a change lesson that was for me.
My old paradigm of singleness was confronted with my new reality of being married. If I was going to be any good at this being married thing, then I had to understand what this new life was all about.
I am so thankful that I married a very patient woman. She has been at my side now for 34 years teaching me all about what it means to start something new.
The real key if you are experiencing dramatic change in your organization, or you are getting married, is to pay close attention to the relationships between people. For this new reality to be successful we have to replace our negative and anxious feelings with those of more positive outlook.
Being in the middle of change requires us to slow our thinking down and manage the anxieties we are experiencing.
Sure we will stumble at times, but let’s not forget that a step backward is not failure. It is just learning. No one, not even those leading the change in organizations know everything. We all need space to think and to understand what our new way forward looks like.