Some people seem to be able to move across the country into a new job with a new employer, and to do so with relative ease. For others, moving the coffee pot in the break room leads to weeks of consternation, frustration, and lost productivity. Most people fall somewhere in between. And, even those who move through most changes with apparent ease do find change difficult at times. So why are some changes so difficult?
I would like to focus on two pieces to the answer: our skills and our minds. While I am approaching them as separate, needless to say, they are highly inter-related. (There is an important third element to address: resilience. An expert on resilience will be doing a guest post on that topic; for now let me just say that in general, the greater your personal resilience, the easier it is to navigate change.)
The Mind and Change
The first thing to remember is that change is personal. It doesn’t matter who starts it. It doesn’t matter whether it is a “personal,” organizational, or social change. If it touches you, it is personal. If it touches me, it is personal. Change succeeds, or fails, through people.
Change is emotionless. It isn’t positive or negative; that’s just how we see it. You received a promotion; it is most likely a positive change for you. Your best friend is offered a similar promotion, and is concerned about all the negative effects it might have on his life (more time on the road, having to supervise former colleagues, the stress of the added responsibility, etc.). You see the move across the country as positive; it will bring you closer to where you grew up and other members of your family. Your spouse/partner sees it as negative; he will have to find a new job, the children will have to re-establish new friendships in new schools, and so on. How we perceive the change will affect how easy or difficult it is to move through.
In past blogs I have talked about anchors…those things that “ground us.” By definition, change requires an adjustment to our anchors. We may need to cut some loose; we may need to redefine our relationships to others. We may need to add new ones. The bigger the anchors, the more difficult the change will be. Road construction that causes me to take a new route to work rubs up against the “routine” anchor, but it is no big deal. A change that causes me to go from my home office to “the office” with my co-workers five days a week rubs up against many more anchors. A change that challenges my religious, spiritual, or other deeply held beliefs is even more difficult yet.
Often, a change in routine is the simplest. However, even then it does require some attention. Routines are executed based on our neural programming. A change in routine requires reprogramming. The bigger the change in routine, the more reprogramming is required. Meanwhile, we have to be attentive so we don’t slip back into the old routine. The factors that cause the change may also come into play; having to alter our snacking habits because of a medical diagnosis may well be more difficult than altering them because the company put in different vending machines. The latter is a change of convenience, the former may be a matter of life and death.
We tend to take pride of ownership in those things we create: whether a piece of art, a home, a product/service offering, or an organization. The more we invest in the creation, the longer we engage with it, the stronger that sense of ownership is. Changes that are intended to reshape institutions–whether they be personal, organizational, or social–are really tough. Often the very people who created the institution, who nurtured it to maturity, who have ensured that it sustains over time are now being called on to radically change it…to let go of what they built and replace it with something else. Doing so requires a real shift in thinking. It may require a period of mourning, or some form of ceremonial “letting go.” At the organizational level it sometimes requires new leadership; it is just too tough for those who have built and sustained things for so long to now tear them down and create something else in their place.
How much we feel we have control over the change plays into how difficult it is for us. “Calling the shots” makes the change a lot easier than if we don’t have any voice. Having a voice–even if it is to voice opinion, provide suggestions, etc.–gives a sense of indirect control, making the change once again easier to address.
How well you understand the patterns of change affects the difficulty of change. It is akin to having a road map; it doesn’t tell you what the scenery will be like, but it lets you know where to turn, and what type of road you will be on. It helps to demystify the process, and takes some of the surprise out of the surprises.
Finally, the limitations we put on ourselves affect how difficult the change is. If “it’s impossible” or “it’s really, really, really hard for me to do this,” then it is impossible, or really, really, really hard. In a future blog I will address this aspect of how our minds can help or deter us on our change journeys.
Skills and Change
If we don’t have the skills, and don’t think we can get them (there’s that mind again…), change is really difficult. That’s why it is so important to pay attention to–and communicate–how you are going to help others learn what they need when you are driving (or guiding) a change. This is as true for the child who is heading off to college as the customer service representative who needs to learn a different way of working with clients as a result of your new customer relationship initiative.
And yet one more time, with big change it is not only skills that will need to change; it is also ways of thinking. That child will need to think about budgeting time, and personal responsibility, and eating habits, etc. in ways she probably didn’t have to while living at home. The customer service representative will need to think about solving the client’s problem, no matter how long it takes, rather than turning the calls over to maximize the number of people he speaks to in an hour.
So there we have it… how our minds and our skills make changes easier or more difficult. What I find so interesting is that, for the relative impact our minds have on the difficulty of the changes we face, how little we focus on addressing thinking in a conscious way when facing change.
How do you address the mind when facing change yourself, and/or leading/guiding others through it? Comment below.