“The only thing constant in life is change.” - François de la Rochefoucauld
Your ability to manage the directionality of change – either positive or negative – will largely define your success as a change agent. Establish yourself as an effective change agent by helping people prepare and manage seven reactions they typically have to change. These changes are outlined by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges on pages 66-67 of their book, The Servant Leader.
1.) Be Transparent
“People will feel awkward, ill at ease and self-conscious when confronted by change. Tell people what to expect.”
Other than unexpectedly finding a ten-dollar bill in their pockets, most people don’t like surprises – let alone surprises that have long-term implications for their work or well-being. Be up front and as open and honest as you can be. People will seek information in times of change, and by serving as the source of information, you can help ensure that the correct information is being conveyed to others.
2.) Involve People and Create Ownership
“People will feel alone even if everyone else is going through the same change. Encourage individuals to share ideas and to work together to help each other through change.”
Involve people in how the change will be implemented. Leaving people alone may cause them to feel isolated, which will enable them to dwell on the negative. That being said….
3.) Focus on the Benefits…in a Minute
“People will think first about what they have to give up. Don’t try to sell the benefits of change effort initially. Let people mourn their perceived losses. Listen to them.”
The current situation is comfortable because it is safe and known. When change occurs, most people focus on negative directionality. It’s like taking my dog Maggie for a walk. If I pull her along she pulls back usually with more force than normal. If I stop pulling on the leash and ease up just a little bit, in time, she’ll eventually start moving in the direction I want to walk. Give your people some time to walk with you.
“People will think they can handle so much change at once. Set priorities on which changes to make, and go for the long run.”
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your changes be implemented in a day. Identify your early and easy wins that will establish momentum for you and others. Once people are moving and have solid progress to feel good about, continuous effort will be easier to maintain.
5.) Generate ideas
“People will be concerned that they don’t have enough resources (time, money, skills, etc.) to implement the change. Encourage creative problem solving.”
Change, when it isn’t self-initiated, is often seen as a loss. In these situations, people tend to focus on the doors that are closing and other roadblocks to success. In your implementation efforts, help people focus on new doors that are opening and opportunities that are presenting themselves by turning the corner.
6.) Understand Individual Differences
“People will be at different levels of readiness for any particular change. Don’t label or pick on people. Recognize that some people are risk-takers and others take longer to feel secure. Someone who’s an early adopter of one type of change might balk at another type of change.”
My daughters take on tasks very differently. My oldest is cautious and can be misread as shy. She likes to assess the situation and understand the variables at play before she’ll engage. My youngest is our risk taker and will dive right into the task at hand figuring it out by trial and error (we’re pretty sure she’ll be the first to make a trip to the ER). Knowing this about them helps me manage the information I give them to support their individual approaches.
7.) Stay Focused
“If pressure is taken off, people will revert to old behaviors. Keep people focused on maintaining the change and managing the journey.”
Woodworkers know that when they bend wood the finished product will have a certain degree of “springback” towards the original shape. They maintain the pressure on the curve with screws other adhesives so the bend maintains it’s new shape. People are the same way with change. When given the opportunity early in the change process, individuals will revisit old environments and patterns of behavior because of their familiarity and comfort level with the familiar. Understanding that change is a process that solidifies over time will help you keep people focused over the duration of progress.
As James Gordon said, “It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.” How you manage and educate others about change is a major factor in their ability to be ready when you are. By mastering these seven reactions you’ll be a highly sought entity in the job market.
How will you help other react positively to change?
Make it a good day.
Mike Severy is the Director of Student Life at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He views his work through the lens of student leadership development believing that students are developed over time through a series of meaningful experiences and that his role is to help students create and find the meaningful experiences in their lives. You can connect with Mike on Twitter (@MikeSevery).