The Fragility of Change – Professional Growth Systems

The Fragility of Change

Why this is important

I am always searching for the secret sauce for managing change.  I do so because managing change is so challenging and the odds daunting.  As I have recounted numerous times in previous posts, the odds are that two-thirds of the time you won’t succeed.  You will have spent precious time, money and leadership capital trying to make an improvement, only to run out of patience, funding or support from your troops to make it happen.

Why managing change is challenging

Numerous popular books have recounted the challenges of leading change.  Most address our innate resistance to change, but none has done so more authoritatively than William Bridges in his books on “transitions”.

Managers do pretty well in the main with designing and managing the physical side of change, but don’t pay sufficient attention and lack tools and skills to manage the human side of change. This, Bridges asserts, demands equal attention.  Our experience with Process Advantage® is that almost all the failures arise from not managing this human component.

Why don’t we do this well?  Because we generally lack the patience for others, find relationships challenging, and therefore avoid conversations re. “what is happening for you?”.   Instead, we stay in our comfort zone, focusing on the physical change only.

The core of the problem

change-smallBridges introduced the concept of the “transition deficit”, and this to me is the core of the problem.  Over the years and in a variety of circumstances, whenever we fail to successfully change on a personal level, we begin building up resistance to change.  Bridges defines successful change as becoming comfortable in one’s “new life”.  Not an overstatement as every change impacts and redefines our life to some degree.  Not getting over a relationship break up, not getting over losing a job or a loved one.  If you are still not comfortable with life after that change, then you are carrying incomplete changes, and the sum of those incomplete changes represent the transition deficit.  Some of us have much greater deficits than others.

The same holds true for unsuccessful changes in the workplace.  When leadership initiates a new strategy, project or program that is never fully implemented or, worse, is dropped halfway through, the staff is left with the deficit.  Too many of those add up to the point where the staff loses trust with leadership and enthusiasm for a new initiative.

Ask someone suffering from transition deficit to consider yet another change, and they will run from you as if you were the plague.  They will introduce reasons why it won’t work, will delay the implementation, will recruit others to oppose the change.  Not out of malice, but out of survival.  They simply can’t consider yet another change.

As the leader of the change effort, you have already convinced yourself that the change will be beneficial for everyone, so you find this resistance almost unreal.  The frustration mounts, the pressure on both sides mounts, and the change is sometimes aborted as a result.

What to do?

The prescription? In a nutshell, communicate, communicate, communicate.  Specifically:

  • Have empathy for others who are struggling with change.
  • Open a dialogue on what is happening for them.
  • Answer any and all questions to give them as much certainty as possible.
  • Continue to sell why the change is important.
  • Update others on progress, problems and plans.  Keeping transparency as much as possible is key to successfully managing the transition.

I am reminded of the watchword adopted by Toyota after they embraced W. Edward Deming’s philosophy and methods for continuous improvement, “We don’t go fast, but we don’t go back”.  When it comes to managing the human side of change, impatience is your enemy.  As a leader, you want it to happen yesterday, but your troops are only beginning their own journey to get comfortable with making the change.

Drop me an email if you are interested in learning more about change or if you would like to join the conversation about the human side of change.