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ALL CHANGE



In 1798 the American Statesman Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend saying;


“in this world there is nothing certain but death and taxes".


Well, he forgot to mention a third – change. We can be certain there will be change!






Sometimes it’s one big change such as the restructure of an organisation, getting a new job, having a baby. Sometimes it’s a litany of little ones such as a new IT system, someone leaves the team, the school reschedules a timetable.

Having delivered quite a few sessions this month on this complicated, but fascinating topic, I thought it would be a good theme for this edition of the blog. So here are my top picks on the subject of managing change.



THE CHANGE EXPERIENCE - A ROLLER COASTER CURVE


The Change Curve is one of the most popular models for explaining what happens during major changes in our lives, and how to navigate them.

There are in fact two change curves – the positive change curve for those changes that we want or willingly embrace, and the negative change curve, for those that we don’t.

The concept originates from work by Kubler Ross, The Change Curve, on bereavement and loss. Since then, transition theory has successfully adapted this to apply to organisational and other personal changes.

Change impacts on how we see the world and readjusting to this can take longer than we think. It involves a period of inner crisis (the dip on the curve) which we need to move through to successfully adapt to the change and to our new reality. The change curve helps us understand that:

1. Essentially, we go through a roller coaster of emotions as we navigate change – both good and bad.

2. While the shape of the curve is pretty consistent, how people move through it is very individual (two people can experience the same change in different ways).

3.Understanding this can help us navigate and deal with the change in an effective way.


Which curve?

The first thing to work out is whether you are on a positive curve or negative one.

Ask yourself – is this a change that I want or don’t want? Like or don’t like? Is it good or bad?

E.g., Coming back to work in the office 3 days a week post COVID.

Great – it will be wonderful to see everyone again and get the buzz from office collaboration – positive change curve.

Awful – childcare will be difficult, and I get much more done when working from home – negative change curve.

Despite how you start off in the curve, there is always a dip! Even if you win the lotto. There will be a time when that wonderful thing will cause you angst, confusion, and worry. How to spend the money? Who to give money to? Am I loved for me, or the money? Etc.

Think of promotion. After the honeymoon period of getting the job there will be periods of doubt. Can I do this? Do I want to do this? Should I have stayed where I was?


Ride the waves and surf the curve.

The value in the curve lies in understanding where we are on it, and moving as smoothly and as quickly as we can through the ‘dip’ – ‘the inner crisis’.

Without meaning to oversimplify the process, which I need to do for a short blog, there are three sets of tactics that help us to help ourselves move successfully through the curve:

1. Check your mindset. - How might I think? What useful thoughts will help me? Specifically, what mental blocks are getting in the way? (more on this below).

2. Take action. - What can I do? What useful action can I take? Here it is important to track progress and celebrate small wins. The success of the FitBit fitness watch has been in tracking our progress and rewarding us. Who doesn’t love that ‘ta da’ that beeps to tell us that we have walked the equivalent of Dublin to Rome.

3. Look for support. - Who can help? Talk to others. Seek out those who are in a similar position, or who might be able to support you in the change. We need someone for empathy and someone for action. They are not always the same person! In fact, too often we rely on the one person to do both – a good friend, our partner, a sibling. We need someone for empathy who says ‘I know how you feel. This is hard for you’. Equally we need someone for action. Someone who will say ‘let’s see what we can do, what might be the next step, an option might be…etc’.



MENTAL BLOCKS

When it comes to having a healthy mindset during change, it’s good to recognise that there may be certain mental blocks that often prevent us from dealing with negative change and embracing positive change. Let’s look at five common ones.


Learned helplessness


‘I’m so useless. There’s no point in me even trying’.

This is a belief that usually arises as a result of some previous attempt that didn’t go well.

‘I tried that before, it didn’t work so I am not going again’.


Prior to the COVID pandemic I made two attempts to upskill to deliver virtual training. On both attempts I pulled out of the programme before completing it. I justified this on the premise that virtual training was not for me. Roll on the pandemic and I was forced to change my training style and upskill to virtual training. The most challenging thing about this was the ‘learned helplessness’ that I had in my belief that I was not ‘good at this’ because of past experience.

(for the record – 3 years on – I am delivering virtual training on a regular basis and loving it!)


How to unblock – See failure as feedback and don’t put so much emphasis on past experience.

Replace learedt helplessness with a growth mindset. Rather than think I can’t do this, think ‘I can’t do this YET’.


Projecting blame

‘They are all to blame for this. It’s not my fault’.

Earlier this year, Ulster Bank, previously one of Ireland’s largest banks, pulled out of the Irish market. As someone with both professional and business accounts with the bank, I was very annoyed. We had plenty of warning that this was going to happen. Did I do anything about it? No. Too busy projecting blame. Why are they doing this and why is it happening to me? In addition, there was a little bit of ‘learned helplessness’ as I let myself moan about how difficult it was going to be to move banks because it had ‘always been difficult to deal with the banks’.

The problem with this type of ‘blaming others’ is that it makes us the victim, and in being the victim our power and advocacy is reduced. We feel less in control of the change.


How to unblock - Regain control by asking what can I do? Who can I talk to? What next small step can I take?


Over protection


‘No, I could never do that. I wouldn’t feel safe’.

The sad thing is that many of us don’t embrace change, especially positive change, because we are scared that it might not work out. That we might fail.

So, we don’t go for promotion in case we look unprepared. We don’t have the difficult conversation in case it goes wrong. We don’t speak out to create a more inclusive environment in case it’s embarrassing.


I have a good friend and colleague who set up her own business two years ago. Within the first two months she got offered some high-profile work which was outside her immediate experience and skillset. She declined it on the basis that ‘if she didn’t get it right’, it would be detrimental to her new business. She later admitted that she was annoyed at herself for saying no. In hindsight she recognised that she could have done this work but was 'over protecting' what she already knew.


How to unblock – Look to ‘what might be’ rather than ‘what is’. What would it look like if this change was a successful change? What would you gain?


Loss aversion


‘I’d rather stick with what I have than gamble for something new’.

This is very similar to ‘over protection’ just outlined.

There’s a popular experiment repeated in psychology circles to demonstrate this.

100 people in a room. 50 get a mug and 50 get a bar of chocolate. They are given 2 mins to decide if they would like to swop.

How many swop?

On average – just 10%.

We like what we know. Unless there is a very good reason to change, we stick with what we have. This is known as the status quo bias.


Like me and the banking example. I like what I know. I didn’t want to change, even though when I did change, it was so much better!


How to unblock – Ask yourself - in what way might this change bring benefits? In my career workshops I share a piece of advice given to me by a great manager earlier in my career. He said that any challenge at work and every change at work brings the opportunity to learn new knowledge, or build new skills, or make new contacts. Even in our personal lives, every day is a learning day!



Ambiguity intolerance


‘I’m uncomfortable with not knowing’. ‘I can’t do anything until I know everything ‘

So, I have left this one to the last, because I think it’s often the biggest block.


I heard a psychologist on the radio last week commenting that most people would rather been unhappy than uncertain. There is some truth in that. People struggle with not having all the answers when it comes to change.


If I take this job, will it be the right move?

I understand the need for the new process, but how will it work?

This is happening in 3 weeks but where is the information?

But what happens if…?


William Bridges author of the great book, Managing Transitions, talks about the ‘transition’ from the old way to the new way. It’s the chaos and uncertainty in this transition that causes the grief. This is where we see those emotions of doubt, confusion and concern.


How to unblock. – Make a clear distinction between what you know and what you don’t know. Let go of what you don’t know, and work with what you do, taking the next small step that you can.

I had a boss who was brilliant at this. During a period of rapid and significant change for our team, he met us each week and clearly shared with us everything he knew about the change and what he didn’t know and was unlikely to know for some time. There was still a lot of uncertainty but keeping us informed made us feel that we were working together ‘with the change’ rather than something that was being ‘done to us.’



Summary

Accept that change is constant. We can’t control everything in our lives, all at once, all of the time. Accept that just when you think you have it ‘all sussed’ in your life, it will change! Learning to sit comfortably with the uncertainty of a situation will help you to feel calmer, rather than trying to control it.


A final chuckle on the subject. I came across this graffiti on a wall in Belfast some years ago.


In huge red letters someone had painted:


Change is inevitable!


And in much smaller black writing someone had scrawled….


‘except from a vending machine’!


Thanks for reading.


Susan


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