The expression “the only constant is change” has never been more relevant than in the past 18 months. Neither has the expression “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. How is it possible that the two can be true at the same time? Perhaps it is the nature of change and how it forces us to readdress what we think we know for sure; how it’s always difficult to predict what’s on the other side of change; how change is necessary for survival; and how change constantly seems to unearth problems that we thought were past and dealt with, or which make you want to exclaim “not again!”.
Leadership is all about change, not status quo.
It’s the responsibility of leadership to maintain the big picture – to know what all the moving puzzle pieces are that make up change and where you’re trying to go. Leadership in any position has more of a bird’s eye view than anyone else on the team, and it’s easy to forget that others may not see that whole picture. Big Picture thinking is a leadership skill – not one that everyone possesses. Consequently, the main responsibilities of leadership through change are communication, transparency, and protecting the trust within your team.
Change can come in many forms. It can come from outside as the environment around us changes and the requirements of our successful operation within that environment need to be adjusted. It can come from inside our operations in the form of new projects, team structures, new team members, new systems and ways of doing things, adjustments to work requirements and salaries etc. You name it. What’s interesting is that any change is stressful, even positive change, for exactly the same reasons.
It’s generally hard to predict exactly what’s on the other side of change. Our egos, which live in the same part of our brain as our fight or flight reflex, are constantly trying to do their one and only job which is to protect us. As soon as there is an unknown, no matter how strong our reasoning mind is, our egos will try and fill in that unknown with the absolute worst-case scenario so that we’re primed to stay safe. The problem is that this is often based on many half-cocked assumptions due to lack of information, and serves only to release a steady stream of adrenaline and cortisol into our systems, resulting in some less-than-desirable behaviour from the best of us!
Often, because we know that people resist change, we keep it from them because we think we’re protecting them in some way; when what we should be doing is compassionately preparing them and guiding them through it. Guiding change well requires that your team trusts you. Trust is born of clarity, truth, transparency and shared reasoning.
Thankfully, there are some predictable, common sources of resistance that we can understand and strategize around. Let’s look at three main concerns:
1. Loss of Control
We all need a little stability in our lives – things that we know are the same every day. A baseline that we can count on that means we know how to operate. Change messes with the things we know for certain, and can make us feel out of control. One day we know what we’re doing, how to do it and what’s expected of us, and the next day we don’t. Renegotiating this takes energy which detracts from our focus. If we lack enough information to form an adequate picture of what’s happening, half our brain will dwell on trying to figure that out – leaving us only the other half (or less) to work on navigating that change effectively. Awareness that we’re not doing a fully focused and effectual job at navigating that change further stresses us out.
Inviting those who change will affect into the planning and discussion of that change on some level helps to give them ownership and allows them to maintain a feeling of self-control. Discussion that at least highlights what will change and when allows people to mentally prepare themselves.
2. Change is Different
Efficiency requires that we know what to do when, and we generally form habits and routines around our processes – whether that’s how we get ready to face the day, or a complex project completion over a period of time. Change often means that our habits and routines are upset which can cause a great deal of discomfort, as well as being slightly disorienting. When there is too much change at once, we struggle to find something certain to ground ourselves with and panic can set in. At a bare minimum, too many changes all at once can create confusion and our brains spend more time trying to deal with the confusion than implementing the new changes. Certain changes, without preparation, can also make us question our competence – especially when new systems and processes are introduced. Without adequate allowance for change, self-doubt can creep into the most established people.
Taking baby steps to introduce bigger change, focusing on one change at a time, and supporting people with enough information and training are ways we can help people to remain focused and dignified.
3. Change is REAL
Change is an out-of-your-comfort-zone look at reality and it CAN hurt. Firstly, regardless of the change, it adds to your processing and workload. There will always be a trial and error phase of change and everything looks messy in the middle. There are also the ripple effects of change that touch other departments, clients and customers, vendors, your family and your broader community. Most stressfully, change can be real when it affects people’s livelihoods. Their salaries, positions, or ability to do their job. The added workload of change requires acknowledgement, support, communication and PATIENCE.
Allowing team members time to focus exclusively on making changes, and supporting them while they do so keeps the spirit and energy alive. Communicating change before the ripples go out allow the greater circle of stakeholders to brace themselves. When change means people’s jobs, salaries or status may be threatened, then truth, transparency and steadiness are essential.
One Last Note:
When you’re facing change, you need your team on board and backing that change (whether that’s at home or at work). Trust and transparency are paramount if you want people’s energy to be present and focused rather than leaking due to the stress of trying to protect themselves from the unknown. When change is introduced, you can count on the fact that any remaining issues that were previously unresolved will come to the surface and demand attention. Any past resentments or distrust will make a reappearance and require addressing before people are willing to be on board. Keeping trustworthy channels open when the going is good gives us something to build on when change presents itself.
Allowing others to bring thoughts, ideas and considerations on how change may work adds perspective you may not have considered. What they say about a shared load is true. A well-chosen team can multiply the energy exponentially as you travel. If they seem flat, their energy may be leaking as they try and navigate change with insufficient information to do so confidently. That is your signal to pause, gather, and communicate.
by Christen Killick
November 22nd, 2021