The Bewildering People Side of Change – Professional Growth Systems

The Bewildering People Side of Change

Change impacting employees

In 1992, I was selected to bring the Deming quality program to a small rural hospital in Alaska. Bill and Doug at PGS were my consultant coaches, and the leadership of the hospital was on board. Everything was positive from the outset. The program was fairly straightforward. I worked with teams of employees to evaluate, quantify and flowchart processes throughout the hospital, look for ways to improve the processes, then implement the changes. The goal? Improve customer satisfaction, reduce costs, eliminate waste, etc.

change-smallHowever, as with any process improvement program, to reach the goal required change. Change in staff duties, change in hand-offs, change in procedures. All had positive results, there were to be no layoffs or cutbacks. But all that process work required change. This was the context in which I learned that change, even if positive, can scare the common sense right out of people.

Before I move on, I need to come clean about the culture of the hospital. The relationship between some of the staff and the executive team was precarious at best. There was an underlying lack of trust that had filtered down from past offenses – poor leadership decisions, poor choices by staff, or simply misunderstandings stemming from poor communication. Therefore, the culture that the quality program was moving into was one of doubt and questioning.

It was that doubt and questioning that took an unusual form one morning.

Long before we ever got the first teams together or the changes outlined, I was the recipient of an anonymous employee’s frightened confrontation. One morning, I noticed that someone had taken my sack lunch out of the employee refrigerator and thrown it away. I thought nothing of it since I frequently used old, out-of-date yogurt containers as my Tupperware (I was, after all, a single 20-something). They must have thought my lunch had been there for weeks. It wasn’t until the next day, when my lunch was thrown away a second time, and this time with no out-of-date containers in it, that I realized someone was actually throwing my lunch away on purpose. I was mystified. Fear of change takes many forms. Someone out there was frightened, and the only attack they could muster was to toss my lunch.

Managing Transitions

There is a moral to the story. If you are looking at bringing a change initiative to your organization, make sure you don’t ignore the impact to your employees, even if the change is a positive one. Read Managing Transitions by William Bridges for ideas on how to help your staff approach the changes successfully. Or contact us for help. We have a whole section of our Process Advantage toolbox dedicated to addressing the transitions your employees move through when you bring in a change initiative, and we would be happy to share our secrets.

People truly can react in unusual ways when they fear a change that is in the works. But there are tools to help them through it, which in the long run can save everyone a lot of anxious moments… and occasionally even a lunch or two.