Change Agent Tip #26
A wise man once told me that one reason people struggle with change is that it often means we’re going to lose something.
It’s Personal: Consider the last time you were impacted by a significant change at work (or in life). You may have been asked to give up something in the process. The loss may have involved experiences like:
- Abandoning a well-understood way of doing something that you had grown very comfortable with over time.
- No longer being able to perform a task or process that you had invested considerable time in learning. You’d finally figured it out and were darned good at.
- Throwing out something that you had a part in creating – so the loss was personal because you contributed directly to the current way of doing things.
- The change may have involved asking you to give up something that brought you great pleasure – like directly interacting with customers. (…especially if you are a “people person” or a social extrovert!)
- The transition may have required you to give up something that you had been recognized for doing well in the past. You may have been the expert that people called upon for help – and being able to provide that help made you feel quite useful.
- Perhaps the thing you were being asked to give up wasn’t all that important to you – but being asked to change was going to add complexity to your life – so you were at least going to contribute some extra time and effort during the transition.
Uncover the Loss Factor: When I coach Change Agents, I encourage them to do a little loss-related digging before they implement change. Start by asking a few questions of the stakeholders who will be most impacted by your change:
1. Who? Where? Who will be losing things like those described above? Who may not be impacted at all? What teams, departments or business processes are more impacted than others?
2. What? What specific losses should they expect? (Make sure these elements of the change are included in your communication, training, and other preparatory activities.)
3. How? Exactly how will things be different? What new things will replace old things?
4. Why? Is there a solid rationale for the changes, or will some of the changes simply have to be made “for the greater good”? (People can only be asked to “suck it up” a few times before they decide to put off adopting new things as long as they can!)
5. When? Will the timing of this change result in any impacts on people’s schedules or daily routines? Will it force changes to vacations, working hours or employee social habits?
6. Are You OK? Finally, ask your stakeholders how clear the communication and expectation-setting has been from their frame of reference. Does everyone know where to go for answers? Will people have enough lead time to prepare? (Consider the negative impacts if they have little or no time to prepare for the loss.)
Deal With the Grief: Help people cope with the loss component of your change. Here are a few tips that have worked for me in this regard:
1. Acknowledge the loss: It’s OK to spend a little time working through the aspect of loss. Allow people to describe their sacrifice in personal terms and help them identify what specific emotions they are feeling. Encourage them to talk with others and discuss their concerns in ways that draw others into the process so individuals don’t feel as if they are the only ones dealing with the challenge it represents. If it helps, allow them to take a little memento of the past along with them… For example, in one technology upgrade project, we disassembled an old piece of the equipment and gave people “trophy parts” which we “autographed” for each other with an engraver. …I still have that 15 inch hard disk platter hanging in my office…
2. Recognize that individual reactions may vary. No two people are the same and no two change impacts will be exactly the same, so allow people to work their way through the “grieving process” at their own pace (within limits of course!).
Dealing with loss can be a tug-of-war for anyone. It may help to coach people though the process of identifying and appreciating positive elements of the new way things will be done as a way of accounting for the things they are losing. This “crosswalk” exercise often helps stakeholder see that the overall impact of the change is actually positive and some of the best parts of the future state will only be available if they fully let go of the past.
Anyone who’s worked with me in a client setting knows that commiserating is a pet peeve of mine! It’s OK to facilitate people’s adoption process – but it is not OK for a Change Agent to pile on and agree with the negative side of change resistance. It just makes it harder for the other Change Agents to pick up your mess and carry the load of helping your people adapt.
4. Communicate with an emphasis on the future. One way to help people come to grips with the new world order that no longer includes the things they lost is to walk them through a process of envisioning a future for themselves. Remind them of specific elements that will be part of their future.
This doesn’t mean hammering them over the head with it until they submit. It means asking them to describe ways that they may be able to perform in light of their new reality. Ask them to describe how others have been able to adapt.
Summary: Not all change is uniformly positive or clearly negative for all impacted people. As a Change Agent, it can be a good practice to at least look into the possibility that the change you are bringing about may result in the loss of some very important things for some of your stakeholders.
Note that what I’ve described above is not meant to be a hand-holding exercise, but rather a way to walk people through the process of acknowledging their loss, coming to terms with it and creating their own positive, productive future by envisioning it for themselves.
Questions for Chatter:
- What can happen if people get “stuck” in the grieving process and never fully let go of the past?
- Have you seen any Change Agent techniques that have been particularly helpful when stakeholders are dealing with the loss of a well-worn process that they are very comfortable with? Click the <comment> link below to offer your feedback.
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