Everything's Fine - We don't need "No Stinkin" Change
“It’s just the flavor of the month with this new VP. Every time someone new is hired they know better than us. What’s wrong with the way we do it?” Sally proclaimed to anyone that might be listening. “Well, I heard there are layoff’s coming, and the new VP is the axe woman”, Nellie announced with a hint of panic in her voice. They chattered back and forth all day, day after day, and it was the “dialogue of the business”, not the work that needed to be done.
The only constant in business is the predictability of change. Organizations have to evolve and retain innovation if they want to be competitive. It doesn’t matter if it’s a company of 3 people to a large international company. Change is inevitable. How employees react to change can easily be forecast by how employers’ helps employees navigate change.
I have observed employees reaction to change. It mimics the process of grieving in many business environments and is one of my many change management tools. This epiphany which I had many years ago helped guide my leadership approach when piloting changes. I used the process and applied it to a business environment. One point to remember is that managing change as an employee or employer is not a static reaction; using a variety of tools increases the success of the results.
Grieving is about loss. Change, many times, in the minds of those affected is correlated to loss and not opportunity. That is the process of loss or grieving. Applying Elisabeth Kübler-Ross stages of grieving to change is not unique–change management leaders look at it as one tool in the arsenal to assist employees and employers. A little foundation is needed to help see the parallels.
Kübler-Ross observed these five stages of grieving when talking with critically ill patients and families; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. People move through these stages at varying speeds and success and it’s important to recognize that not everyone goes through each stage. There is no timeline to grieving. Her theory is a model not a rigid fixed regulated process -it is fluid. That is what I see as its uniqueness and value to business. It doesn’t dismiss the loss encountered but it allows life to grow and continue with peace and joy.
Those five stages of grieving definitions follow:
- Denial (this isn’t happening -it’s a mistake)
- Anger (why is this happening to me or those around me?)
- Bargaining (I’ll do better or I will do this for you if…)
- Depression (difficulty in caring -lacking motivation, or perception of not being able to control or influence outcomes)
- Acceptance (It is what it is, and I will go on)
Change is a challenge. Sally and Nellie aren’t trying to be difficult or undermine the company (well maybe they are but we will talk about that a little later-in another column). Employee want to know what is expected of them. Change dissects expectations and creates uncertainty. Change and new initiatives aren’t their routines -they are different. We can’t be robotic and get our work done like we use to, and those big “what ifs” -what if my new boss doesn’t like me, what if I can’t do the job, what if I have to work harder, and the list goes on. As an employee recognize it will happen; with you, without you or despite you.
I recommend that you accept you’re “ticked” or as change management professions and Kübler-Ross noted you’re angry. Let’s be honest it’s probably not the first time or the last time your company will realign and redefine itself. Your question is do you want to come through the change or make a new change and go elsewhere. It is your choice. Sometimes anger is a reaction to fear or is anger fear -it’s the fight or flight response. Anger in the workplace (even passive -aggressive reactions) is career suicide.
As a team member you may try to bargain during change. Our way works - you start to see that maybe change is needed just not in your department. There is public support but private negotiations with leadership; your manager or supervisor or sadly colleagues who have no ability to stop the change. As an employee you may start to look more into what is occurring. You are examining what is happening but making promises to try to keep it the same, won’t make it the same.
You hit that “wall” and recognize your company; your boss has “bought” into this change. You’re depressed. You question why you don’t want to come to work; you spend more time in your cubicle, don’t take as many breaks and don’t talk to your work buddies very much. Your energy begins to wane, sometimes you’re just sad. You recognize that the succession plan where you had a great opportunity is “sunset” -you just come to work and leave.
Some days you’re mad because what you had doesn’t exist and other days you’re in your supervisors office talking about is this really going to happen. Then it hits you -it is, what it is. One of my favorite employees would say it -joked about having it put on “tee-shirts” for our HR team. The change is going to happen and you’ll live through it and possible even have a new, better opportunity. You get it -you suspect that there will be other changes in the future (you see hints of that now). You begin to be yourself again and you now “accept” what has happened.
There are a variety of methods to introduce and guide change. Human Resources should be your change champion. As you examine your corporate future HR can help you drive the initiatives that will propel your company forward. Human Resources shouldn’t be a naysayer when change is occurring. A successful HR team will be your strongest supporter and help engage employees navigate through the changes. If HR hinders you efforts and talks only in term of regulatory restrictions or what you can’t do -I would examine that HR team. Regulations should not be a hindrance to your future of growth nor should your HR team. The more involved they are in the change planning the more they can help or should be able to help led.
The reasons for change are unique to each employer. As you evolve and well before you introduce change your need a marketing plan for change. When you launch new product lines or new customer initiatives you build your education and communication to the public. You need the same tenacity and diligence when you are addressing your employee audience. You cannot “over communicate”. Employers will routinely think they can but employees what to know and understand what is happening. For many employees the bottom line to them is “so how does this affect me” because for many employees (and this isn’t negative) its “all about me”. If you appreciate this it will help your employees steer through the change.
Educate your managers on many of the models of change. Training and communication are your allies as is this theory. As a manager using situation leadership traits will facilitate your efforts. Look for my next column which will focus on the issue of employee communications.