How do you handle change?

“High Changers vs. Low Changers “


Let’s set up a continuum – on the far right, those who consider themselves to be high changers. These are the folks who have such a low boredom threshold that as soon as they have done something a certain way a couple of times they say (to themselves at least) “bored, bored, bored, bored.” And they immediately start looking for ways to change it – make it better, faster, improved, or perhaps just merely different.On the far left we have those who are change avoiders. Their mantra appears to be, “If it was good enough for my dad, it is good enough for me”. They are dragged (frequently by those on the far right, although sometimes just by circumstances) into the 21st century, yelling and screaming.Unfortunately, these two polar opposites are often forced to work together on teams, and we all know what the outcome is – hurt feelings, passive aggressive sabotage directed toward the “winning” side, and finger pointing at the first evidence of failure.Are there ways to handle the requirement for change more productively? I think so – or else I don’t have any content for this column.Let me address the high changers initially.First, keep this critical principle in mind: Don’t sell the solution until you sell the problem! Or, as Peter Senge and others suggest, lead people gently up the ladder of inference (see for information about this concept).We humans are cause seeking animals – whenever something happens, we immediately want to know “why”. People might not be so reluctant to try new things if they were made aware of the compelling reasons why it was necessary to make changes.Second, we all have a different tolerance for risk – even within ourselves. We might be the kind of person who is willing to risk a great deal financially, but not risk doing things that would hurt family or relationships. So, we don’t want to paint people who are not immediately enthusiastic about our ideas as risk avoiders. Whenever you spot resistance to a proposed change, ask yourself how you might be able to make it safer for the person(s) to make that change. (Now, be honest you high changers – you haven’t even stopped to consider risk, now have you!).And third, frame objections as indications that people need more information, more clarity – perhaps about the proposal, or the costs, or the consequences or the mitigation strategies that could reduce negative consequences in the face of failure. People are not always in opposition – sometimes they just need more information so that they can fully understand the idea and its implementation.For those of you who would put yourself closer to the left hand side of the continuum, keep the following principle in mind: “You can’t jump a 20 foot chasm in two 10 foot leaps.” Today, with so many things changing so rapidly, we’re up against the reality that if “we snooze, we lose”. Some people have the “canary-in-the-coal mine- gift “– that is, they see, in advance of most others, the dangers that lie ahead if a change in direction is not made. I’m not sure that anyone knows how to explain this, but history is full of people who have been able to avoid disaster because they have been able to see into the future and what might occur if things remain the same. (They are not easy to work or live with, by the way!)Second, be honest with yourself about what is driving your reluctance. Is it a fear of being seen as personally incompetent – that you won’t be able to manage when the changes are made? Are you worried that you will lose significant power and control? Maybe you feel exploited because you have to more work without any consideration of an increase in pay for additional duties and responsibilities. There are many reasons why a person may be reluctant to go forward with a change, and that does not mean that the concerns are without merit. However, rather than appearing simply as someone who hates change, it is much more productive to state the reasons why you are opposed. (The need for reasons why goes both ways, you see).And third, and the critical point of value that change avoiders bring to an organization: are the changes being rammed through too quickly without the required time and attention? Low changers can be particularly valuable to an organization so long as they are not just against change because of personal reasons. If you can ensure that the change is planned and managed properly, both the high and low changers can get their wish – maximum benefit with minimum pain.

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