If the change is big, pain is inevitable. And, it should come as no surprise, pain is personal. If your organization is large, you may not know many (or even most) of those who will be hurt by the change. If your organization is small–or the change is one in your personal life–you may know everyone who will be hurt.
What do you do?
First, let’s take a look at some of the ways in which pain might be felt.
It may be the pain of disrupted expectations. “Why are they changing things now? We’ve always done it this way, and it’s working just fine.” “Why would they move my job half-way across the country? Everybody likes living here.” “Ever since you were little you wanted to be a teacher? Why do you want to switch your major to pre-med?”
Often it is the pain of loss… perhaps a lost job, a lost base of power in the organization, the loss of a title or job classification.
Sometimes it goes deeper; it is the pain of feeling betrayed. “I’ve worked here my entire career. I’m two years away from retirement, and now your changing my job?” “I moved my family across the country to work for you, and now I’m being laid off?” “When we married, I thought it would be forever. Now you want a divorce?”
Change can cause pain; big change can cause big pain!
One of the most important questions to ask yourself when considering a major change is, “Why? What is the reason for this change?” Is it a good idea, or is it imperative for the future?
Next, ask whether the pain of the status quo is (or will become) significantly greater than the pain of the transition. If not, then you should really reconsider whether to move forward with the change. If it is a good idea, you probably should drop it; if it is an imperative, look for alternatives that will deliver the future with less pain.
Your next question has to do with how you respond to the pain that will result from making the change. All too often, especially in large organizations, I have seen leaders (as well as individuals) who shrug it off as inevitable. Acting indifferently to the pain of others–especially when you are driving the change causing it–is perilous at best. There is a big difference between being seen as strong, decisive, and caring, and being seen as cold and heartless. If you are driving your change from the cold and heartless platform, it is likely that you will quickly lose the support of those whom you want to accompany you on the change journey.
Move forward with empathy. if the change is an imperative, you can’t make it optional for those who are unwilling or unable to go along. However, you can be supportive in helping them find success outside the change.
Some organizations provide outplacement counseling, resume writing services, and even networking training. Severance pay is common for terminations under these circumstances. These are sound business responses; they are not empathetic. They support the transition; it is not clear that they do much to lessen the pain.
Pain is personal. Your response should be as well. Meet with those you know. Provide your best counsel on how they might move forward. You may be able to serve as a reference, or to network them to friends or colleagues or services that might help them through the transition. If you know them well, you may be able to help them think through options for turning the pain into a positive incentive for moving forward in a new direction. Encourage others to do likewise.
I have been asked, “How can I do this? I have a change to lead. I have a business to run. And, you’re saying that I should also be investing myself in those who are being left behind?”
My encouragement is, Yes, you should. It speaks volumes to who you are as leader. It speaks volumes to who you are as a person. And, whether you do or you don’t, those who are hurt by the change will remember for many years to come. Those who are expected to support you going forward will remember as well.
A Blogger’s Note: This was a difficult post to write. It isn’t always easy to bring reason to topics of emotion. But, this is an important topic. Whether personal or business change is on your plate, the fact that your change will hurt others is a reality that you will either face, or run away from. My encouragement is to face it with strength and courage; face it with commitment to the change that you are driving; and face it with empathy for those who are being hurt in the process.
Your comments, feedback, pushback, and experience with change and pain are welcomed!