Supporting Change

It didn’t start out as a good week. 

I have been in a bit of a funk knowing I won’t be home for Christmas. The truth is I miss my Niagara-based family and friends. The hovering cloud of sadness I was working hard to keep at bay was amplified by work challenges, a never-ending to-do list, and one too many meetings. By the end of the week I was just barely holding it together, emotions running close to the surface.

So of course isn’t that just the time when it seems every single person decides to resist, disagree, or give you a hard time about everything you say? No chance even for a mini pity-party for me.   

And yet it seems when the going gets tough, you learn.

This week I learned that even when I think something is so implicit or obvious, the odds are that to many it won’t even be a blip on their radar. I will need to be explicit even when I don’t think there is a need to be.

I thought that some on our team were simply refusing to see the need for change and the advantages of being entrepreneurial and innovative. It wasn’t. It was more about me not being clear enough about why we needed to change and how that change was linked to the ultimate sustainability of the work we’re doing to develop strong community leaders.

This week also reinforced that there really is only a tiny percentage of the population who like and embrace change.  Also, despite conventional thinking that says the older you are the more resistant to change you are, resistance actually has nothing to do with age.

In a recent study done by the Center for Creative Leadership, a survey of 3,200 workers of all ages showed that a mere 12 people said they liked change at work.

The study concluded that resistance to change isn’t about age it’s about how much you stand to gain or lose. 

People typically dislike or resist change because they believe it will increase their workload, decrease their authority or power, or make getting their job done more difficult.

Fundamentally it seems people want the same things regardless of their age.

According to the study, regardless of whether you’re a Boomer, an Xer, or a member of Generation Y, you likely share a number of values -  no one really likes change, everyone wants leaders who are credible and trustworthy, organizational politics are a problem for everyone, almost everyone wants a coach, and loyalty depends on the context, not on the generation.

So if we acknowledge that we live in a world that is constantly changing – and that change is also essential for innovative and successful government, businesses and organizations, how on earth do we support a greater receptiveness to change?

Ultimately a lot of it will come down to communication. In addition to inviting discussion and feedback about new solutions, it will be important to talk about the reasons for change.

And, even though leaders are faced with time and resource pressures, they will need to make the time to listen to concerns as well as ideas.

While some will be able to assimilate changes and the reasons behind them quickly, many others will not. As a result it will be important to ensure adequate resources and time. Training and ongoing support will also be needed.

Even when everything is done by the book, people may still end up being confused by change, especially if they don’t fully understand the technology or process being introduced. They may be afraid to ask questions, and they may act with only a partial understanding.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to manage expectations. Like the pilot on the plane who tells us to put our seatbelts on because we’re about to enter some turbulence, we need to be clear up front that we’re in for a bumpy ride when change is anticipated.  Because we were told to expect it to be rough, it never seems quite as bad as we had anticipated.

Most change is like that turbulent plane ride….scary, exhilarating, frustrating but ultimately a great adventure that typically leads to sunny skies beyond the clouds.

Posted on 12-15-08

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