Stumped by Change Management? (Part I)
Every time something changes, something starts – and something else comes to an end. Think about your life so far: birth, school, work, redundancy, marriage, relocation, separation. Each time you encountered one of life’s inevitable changes, something began while something else ended.
In business and worklife, the same simple equation applies (c=e+b). Changes are made up of endings and beginnings. Upscaling, downsizing, merging, diversifying, divesting – they all begin with an ending somewhere. These endings may be regarded as positive, negative or both! Either way, these endings mark the first stage of transition that people go through as they leave the old way behind and move towards the new. If you would like to understand more about the vital role of human transitions in change management, Managing Transitions by William Bridges is a seminal work.
Negative endings cause us losses. Such losses may be minor and manageable or they may be mind-numbing and incapacitating. They may be anywhere in between the two.
These losses can strongly impact our view – both of ourselves and of the changing situation around us. Our reaction to ( and our ability to cope with) these losses, is highly individual to us. The same loss that devastates one of our colleagues might not affect us as much, or at all, for a myriad of reasons.
The impact felt depends solely on the perception of the person suffering the loss.
Management Tip: If your change initiative is frozen or failing, you are probably still stuck in the first stage of transition – you need to identify what endings and losses people have had to face, assess how they are coping, and understand how to manage them forward.
Typical losses caused by workplace endings might include, for example, changed or vanished relationships; diminished status; reduced responsibilities; and decreased benefits.
The short-term effect of experiencing such losses often manifests itself in the feelings described by the Kubler Ross grief cycle. These can include shock, immobilisation, denial, anger, bargaining and depression. Anyone who has been in a workplace when a redundancy programme has been announced can vouch for this phenomenon – in both the victims and survivors.
On top of that you can usually bet that someone who is trying to cope with negative losses – and the feelings they create – is also probably experiencing other deep-seated emotions such as embarrassment, shame, wounded self-esteem, and maybe even desperation.
Have you ever seen someone ‘acting out’ in a workplace, and perhaps behaving quite out of character? What endings and losses might they have been tackling?
One of the big challenges for managers who are planning and implementing change initiatives is that this is neither a linear nor a sequential human process. Moreover, individuals in the same office or department can and do go through these cycles of feelings and emotions at different times and at different rates. Some get through this first phase of transition quickly. For others, even the slightest knock-back can send them back to their comfort zone where they strive to maintain their status-quo and may fiercely resist all efforts to change.
In Part II we’ll explore how business managers can avoid becoming stumped and frustrated by their organisation’s change efforts. We’ll also consider some things that people who are struggling to cope with the effects of change can do to support themselves and their colleagues through tough transitions.