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Resolve to Accept the Challenges of Change in 2016

By Meredith Lepley on January 5th, 2016

Happy New Year from Miller Consultants! We hope 2016 is a peaceful, productive and profitable year for you.  If you’re like many Americans, you’ve made some New Year’s Resolutions. And those resolutions typically involve changes you’d like to make in your life. Some of the most popular resolutions are to lose weight, get organized, spend less money, exercise more, quit smoking, and spend more quality time with family. These resolutions are changes we impose upon ourselves… and we all know how difficult these changes are to make and to maintain. Many of us, including myself, keep making the same resolutions year after year after year…

Red 2016 symbol, icons or button isolated on white background, represents the new year 2016, three-dimensional rendering

Implementing a change that you choose is hard enough to maintain, so imagine how hard it is to implement and deal with a change that you do not choose. The world is changing, and in 2016 many of us will face changes—both personal and professional—that we will not choose but essentially will be forced upon us. How will we respond?

Change is challenging. In fact, all the letters of the word “change” are in the word “challenge.” Change requires adaptability, perseverance and resilience—it’s not always easy.

Decades of research reveal that when faced with change, people go through a natural pattern of responses. The speed with which we complete the pattern varies according to the type of change, whether we perceive the change to be good or bad, whether or not we initiated this change ourselves, whether we’ve been through similar changes before, our personality, and other variables. Regardless, we generally go through the following pattern:

  • Stage 1 – Fear. We first think of the loss that this change represents for us—loss of the way things were, loss of control—and this loss causes us to feel concerned, afraid and threatened. How will this change affect us? Our minds usually go immediately to worst case scenario. “Oh my gosh, I won’t be able to manage this change at work and learn the new process, I’ll be completely incompetent, I’m going to lose my job, then I’m going to lose my house, and I’m going to wind up homeless.” I have heard this mental scenario from many employees in the first stage of a major organizational change. It’s surprising how frequently a change at work is met with “I’m going to be homeless.” That’s worst-case-scenario-thinking at its finest!
  • Stage 2 – Anger. Once we get over our initial fears about the change, we tend to feel angry and annoyed. We feel resentful that we have to go through this change at all, skeptical that this change is necessary or will be effective, and some of us may outright resist the change by becoming obstinate and refusing to make the change that is requested of us. (It’s important to understand that many times, we are angry and resistant because we don’t know all the facts behind the change, so thorough communication—especially an explanation of “the why”—from management can be critical to reducing resistance!)
  • Stage 3 – Discomfort. Once you’ve gotten to this stage, you have all the information you need and understand how this change is going to impact you. I sometimes refer to this stage as the Dazed and Confused Stage, because, if the change is significant, this new information may leave you feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Your brain will have to process this information and try to make sense of it, which often leaves people feeling tired and confused. Among employees, productivity drops and absenteeism soars! Even people who are normally well-organized and productive will become absent-minded. Like I said… dazed and confused. And some individuals in this stage dealing with very significant changes are prone to anxiety and even depression.
  • Stage 4 – Hope. Our minds have sorted out the facts of the change, and we’re coming out of the fog. We see things clearly and without fear and realize that we have options, so we feel more in control, and our energy and concentration return. Instead of dreading the change, we become open to the possibilities and start to feel hopeful. We see the light at the end of the tunnel and begin to think more rationally and make some strategic decisions to move forward!
  • Stage 5 – Acceptance. Once we’ve made some decisions about how to proceed with this change and have taken steps in the right direction, we have accepted the change and are dealing with it effectively—we are productive and feeling good. Yay! It’s time to celebrate the fact that we made it through the change. (Keep in mind that we don’t have to like the change to reach this stage. It may have been a lousy change that you’d never choose for yourself, but you feel satisfied and confident that you made it through.)
  • Stage 6 – Integration. At this point, we have fully integrated the change into our life. It doesn’t feel like a change anymore… It’s just the new normal.

In 2016 as changes occur, it’s important to understand this process, to realize that it’s completely normal, and to know that—no matter how difficult the change is now—eventually we will get to the point where the change feels normal. And as managers implementing changes in our organizations in 2016, it’s important for you to know that your employees WILL go through these stages (even if we’d like for them to skip right over the fear and resistance) and to be patient and understanding with them as they do so.

For more information on how to guide your employees through the change process, please contact me at meredith@millerconsultants.com or visit www.millerconsultants.com.