It’s a common belief that people don't like change, but by looking at the fashion industry or the housing market it’s clear to see that there are some changes that we do like.
We can identify a few different ways that we respond to change, firstly there are the people that are able to adapt quickly and get on with it. We like change when we're in charge of it so we often react like this when we have instigated the change. Some people will resist change and push back against it and then sometimes we see people that are in denial about the change and just hope it doesn't happen, they think ‘if I just keep my head down the change will pass me by’. What we want to try and create is an environment where people feel able to move with the change.
The change curve
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the change curve. This shows us the stages and varying reactions that people have to change, it’s important to remember that anyone can come in at different points on the curve. After the initial shock reaction, the first stage of change that we see is denial, we refuse to believe the change is happening. If we use the current situation of COVID-19 as an example, there are probably quite a few of us who in the very early days thought they wouldn’t be affected by it. I remember even days before lockdown happened in London I was still just going to work thinking everything will be fine.
The second stage is resistance where people do actively push back against it, refuse to accept it. There's some element of anger almost, anger and resistance about what's happening ‘I don't want to be locked up, it's not fair I can only go out once a day’ and people can also begin to show signs of apathy.
The third stage is exploration, so once we get over the downside of the change we start thinking what's going to happen? As business’s we've started exploring but also individually we’ve started exploring, we’re asking ourselves ‘are there some good things that could come out of this change? What can I do differently? What does it allow me to do now?’ Perhaps we've now got the ability to work differently at home with flexible timings that suit our work-life balance better.
The last stage is of course acceptance and we move into ‘the new normal’.
The Kubler-Ross curve is used in counselling where it’s also known as the grief curve. We can acknowledge change as a loss and I think it’s important to recognise this and say you know what, it's okay if this is how I feel, this is perfectly normal. COVID-19 is probably the biggest change that's hit us all professionally.
Managing the change
So what can we do? As leaders we can follow the 3 Cs; communicate, connect and care. Firstly make sure we are communicating with our teams about the change. Ask them how is it making them feel? We must also think about how we are connecting. Communicate and connect are intrinsically linked here, think about how COVID-19 for example is changing how we connect with people. How are our teams talking? Are they emailing? Messaging? Video calling? We need to understand how are teams want to connect. The last one is about caring for others, it's very rare that you're the only person affected by the change so think about how other people are going through it. In the case of COVID-19 you or your business may know people from other countries that were effected by lockdown or other changes before or after you were. Think about how are they dealing with the change and what different challenges are they could be facing.
On an individual level, it will help us if we can stay curious about the change that is happening. Ask what does it mean for the company you work for? What's going to happen to how I work? What other things could I be doing? A way for you to help manage a change that is happening is by trying to involve yourself in that change. If your business is reshaping or restructuring, think about what you could bring to the table, and volunteer to do different things that could help make the business run smoother. This will give you some involvement so you've got a line of sight on what’s happening. It’s important to keep that line of sight to help you see the bigger picture and the end goal. So whether it's an individual or a business change make sure you keep looking to see what the end goal is and if it’s changing, how you can keep adapting to fit that.
Look back at a time when you've come through change and take lessons from that. It could be a positive change like buying a new property or getting married or maybe you’ve unexpectedly lost your job, any of those situations can initially feel quite scary. How did you come through that? How did you respond to the change? What emotions did you feel? You’ll probably see this roller coaster that we go through which is the natural reaction.
Build yourself a support system if you can amongst friends, amongst colleagues and talk about some of your feelings. Resilience and positivity are important when managing change as well as how we feel. Understand your own reactions and where your pressure points land but also recognise that other people are going through it. Just take a little bit of time out and have a deep breath, sometimes a little bit of meditation, just close your eyes and do nothing and forget about the change for a moment.
I used to work at a bank a long time ago, in the back office of a trading floor. We used to reconcile accounts by hand, we would write out internal debits and internal credits and when the money came in or went out we used to highlight it with different coloured highlighters and then if there was a query we'd investigate it. We would go over one colour in another colour and then it wouldn’t be outstanding anymore - it was quite high tech in the eighties! One day we were told that a system was going to be introduced that would auto match these entries, so any internal debit would be matched with an external credit and it would disappear from the system. Everyone said “the system will never work! What’s going to happen to my job?” Of course it sounds ridiculous to us now that people were actually writing out every trade that was done on a sheet of paper, but trading still exists, reconciliation still exists and now nobody would be willing to lose their automated system.
You may have a tried and tested process or stuck with a part of your career where you have thought a change will not help. But a change will potentially give you or your business opportunities to do something else or it could just give us more time which is something we all tend to all crave.
Try not to fear change because change can be good and remember when you're in control of it you’re demanding the change. When you can, get back in control of the change. The big change at the moment for us all is COVID-19, but the change you're in control of is how you work and that's very much up to you.
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