To adapt to change is to survive; to create change is to succeed.
In today's world, most companies struggle merely to adapt and survive rather than create change and succeed. This is often due to the unintentional failure to manage what some call the "hidden" side of the change process - transition.
At first glance, change and transition might seem to mean the same thing. In reality, they represent two different and critical components of the overall change process. Both must be managed well in order for any change initiative to succeed.
What's the difference between the two?
Change involves the actual shift in the environment, in the external situation. Transition is the internal, psychological reorientation one goes through in coming to terms and dealing with a change in their environment and in their lives. It involves a personal process that engages a wide range of individual emotions.
Most companies do a reasonably good job of planning and implementing the actual change. Where they tend to fall short is in managing the transition. Unfortunately, most companies do not pay a great deal of attention to the human emotion associated with transition. As a result, their change efforts usually fall far short of the intended results.
Managing change involves five key activities:
- Establish the need for change. Be clear about the purpose and intended result of the change your organization needs to accomplish.
- Clearly identify your organization's culture and design a change strategy and process that aligns to that culture.
- Seek to understand the transitions that result from the change, looking for and dealing with any resistance that may undermine the change.
- Implement the changes, generating short-term wins and consolidating those wins to create more change.
- Use ongoing recognition of performance and success to permanently embed the changes in the organization.
Successful change management requires creating alignment between your strategy, leadership and culture. Of these, culture is probably the most important, yet also the most overlooked.
Culture can be loosely defined as "the things we do around here to succeed." It identifies what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Culture is the shared understanding and agreement (often unspoken) on how things get done, who does what, and the organization's values and beliefs. If the culture doesn't align with the change you are attempting to undertake, the odds of success are drastically reduced.
Dealing with Loss
Managing change requires understanding how people respond to it. In organizations, typical reactions to change include:
- Feeling awkward, ill at ease, and self-conscious
- Feeling alone, even when everyone is going through the same change
- Feeling overwhelmed, like there is too much to handle
- Fear of not having enough resources
- Fear of the unknown
One of the biggest reactions to change is the fear of loss. In a business environment, people tend to fear loss in three specific areas:
- Importance - attachments, roles and the sense of belonging. When these are at risk, people may feel abandoned and ignored. They get a sense of no longer being included, and feel a loss of personal significance.
- Competence - turf, structure, future and control over one's performance outcomes. When these are at risk, one may feel incompetent, out of control and suffer potential humiliation for not being "good enough" or capable in new situations.
- Affection - identity, meaning, connections and still being liked by others. People may find themselves working with new people and new situations. This tests their ability to build new relationships and be disclosing about who they are, thereby running the risk of not being liked by others.
Even when the change is viewed as positive, there is always some loss associated with it. The fears associated with loss are the drivers of resistance and can lead to the dysfunction within workgroups and across entire organizations, preventing the successful implementation of even the most well-intended change. Therefore, when planning a major change effort, make sure to look at who is losing what (in terms of individuals, teams and the organization as a whole), acknowledge their perceived losses, and provide resources to help them deal with the sense of loss.
Helping People in Transition
To help your people move through the transition process with as little difficulty as possible:
- Show that you care by listening to what people are saying.
- Maintain connections and observe what people are doing.
- Ask a lot of questions.
- Look for signs of transition (anger, conflict, stress, absenteeism, etc.)
- Clearly communicate goals and objectives.
- Show your concern through actions (keep your promises!)
- Encourage creativity and risk-taking.
- Help people to action plan.
In particular, asking questions will help people to move through the transition and give them some sense of control and direction. In doing so, you help people to begin exploring how to cope with, embrace and act in the change, demonstrating their commitment to its successful implementation. Good questions to ask include:
- Do you have enough information and awareness of the direction we are taking? If not, what information will be helpful to you?
- Do you have the skills and support you need to deal with the immediate challenges you face? If not, what particular skills and support are you in need of to be successful?
- Do you have the skills and support you need to deal with the transition you're undergoing? If not, how can I be of help in getting you the skills and support you need?
- Are you getting enough support and feedback from the organization to make the right personal choices about your life and work? If not, how can I help in getting the support and feedback you need?
At the same time, don't neglect your own transition needs. Just because you're leading the change doesn't make you immune to the effects of it. Take the time to identify what you will lose as a result of the change and what resources you will need to get through it.
- What can I personally do to increase the effectiveness of my change and transition leadership?
- What can we (as a management team) do to increase the effectiveness of the change initiative?
- What will I ask others in the organization to do to increase the likelihood of successful change?
Once the change gets underway, continue to focus on your own development as a leader and role model for the change process, and reinforce coaching practices that align to the progress of the change and the new environment. Recognize and reward the behaviours that support the change, and publicly celebrate the wins.
As an organization, you can adapt to change and survive. Or you can create your own future by managing the change and the transition.