Change is Constant:
Change is good. We cannot live without it and, as a species we certainly cannot continue to evolve and make progress without changing. Even “bad change” is good since it gives us another data point to consider for future modifications. As individuals, we change whether we like it or not. While it isn’t exactly correct that our bodies “replace themselves every 7 years,” it is true that different cells in our bodies die and are replaced at different times. The point that was to be made is still valid, our bodies are constantly changing and so, for some people, it begs the question of “why do we so dislike change?”
Lessons from Nature
There is, then, perhaps yet another leadership lesson from nature. Change is inevitable, can be good or bad (depending on the system), and can be overdone or occur too quickly for the whole system to properly respond. I’m fond of the saying, “People don’t mind change, they hate being changed.” The reason this statement seems true to me is that if I initiate change in my own life, my “system” has already accepted that the change is coming. I may not always be happy about the change (perhaps needing to go on a diet, or move to a new location, etc.) but by definition, since I’ve initiated it, I’ve prepared for it. When I have push back on change is when someone else initiates change for which I have been unprepared.
Time to Grieve
Recently I ran across a very interesting thought on change that had to do with allowing people to take some time to grieve over the things they lost because of the change. That surprised me. I’ve always been one to “move on” and I tried to emphasize the good things that were going to happen because of the change. The idea was to not let people “cling” to the past. I now see that is not a very productive approach. By not allowing time for people to acknowledge that they have lost something because of the change (and there always is a loss) we most likely extend the time needed to accept the change.
I’m going to amend the way I approach both personal and organizational change. First, I’m going to do my best to give people a “heads-up” that disruption is coming. We can’t always have the luxury of time, but when possible, it seems good to let people have time to plan on what is coming. Second, I’m going to try to plan for incremental change wherever possible. Big changes are more disruptive and harder to assimilate. Again, we don’t always have the luxury of moving slowly with small changes, but when possible, I’ll fight my instinct to do it all and get it over with. Finally, I’m going to allow time to let people list and acknowledge as many of the things they will lose due to change as they can think of. Not so they can dwell on them or to give any indication that the change won’t go forward as planned; but rather to simply acknowledge that there are losses in the change. Then we should be able to move forward with the positive aspects of the change with a clear head. Sum etiamtum – I am still learning!