As appeared in the 11/1/11 edition of The Columbia Business Times
We live in a totally different age today.
Significant changes appear to be happening not by the day but by the second. Technological changes, political changes, social changes, economic changes, and not all are seen as particularly good changes. Change happens so fast that no one person can keep up with it. Change can leave you feeling overwhelmed and even depressed. The rolling waves of change are hitting us constantly on a personal level, and no one is immune. Our lives are in a continual state of transition. Life is always moving forward; nothing ever remains the same.
What changes are you facing today?
What changes are unsettling your world?
What changes are seemingly out of your control?
We orient our lives based on what we’ve experienced in the past and the habits and mindsets we’ve developed over the years. Sometimes the mindset of the past can clash with the present as well as with the future that is unfolding in our lives and cause our minds to reject the changes. We may be trying to make changes to move us forward to our preferred future, only to find that the past wants to interfere with our progress.
Benjamin Franklin once said: “We constantly change the world, even by our inaction. Therefore, let us change it responsibly.”
We may be creating change or responding to it. Either way, we must have an element in our lives that is constant and stable, something that connects the past, present and future. This is the leader’s responsibility in managing change in an organization. The leader must help everyone keep his or her hearts and minds grounded in what the organization is, where it is going and the values by which we will travel there.
The reality we face is organizations cannot continue on in ways they always have; change and transition require that they must become the way they are supposed to be next. If this is successfully navigated, the organization will not become overwhelmed by the present on its way to the future. As a leader, preparing your heart and mind, and subsequently the hearts and minds of your people, for any possible strategic shift helps take the sting out of change.
Change vs. transition
Change is the result of a decision, a strategic choice. It is an external event. Transition, on the other hand, is the emotional, relational, financial and/or psychological processing of change. Understanding the difference between change and transition can help leaders plan accordingly. It is rare that change itself causes problems. Typically, the issue is a lack of transitional planning and execution. All leaders are responsible for foreseeing and creating a strategy for transition in their organizations. Often, we spend so much time on change, we never strategically think through the transitional issues. Many leaders fail in the change agent role because they focus on the solution instead of the problem.
Ninety percent of a leader’s efforts should be spent on selling the problem and helping people understand what is not working. People do not perceive the need for a solution if they don’t have a problem. By the same token, people (especially your followers) must understand the problem to agree on a solution. A successful transition isn’t the responsibility of the people undergoing the change. The responsibility for the successful transition belongs to the leader making the change.
Assimilating new people into leadership roles is the hardest change issue we face. We, as leaders, must be aware of the difference between changes and transitions. If we properly prepare and execute a transitional plan and if we take responsibility for the changes we are bringing onto our people, the results will be worth the effort.
Here are questions leaders should ask regarding change:
What is the context of the change? Nothing is meaningful without a context. How will this change affect the entire transition of the organization? Where is it designed to take us, and what is the desired, measurable result?
What things are not changing? As mentioned earlier, continue to highlight the things that can bridge the past, present and future amidst a transition. What things are familiar and successful with which your team can relate?
What are the logical vs. psychological aspects of the change? No matter how logical this shift may seem to you as the leader, it will seem uncomfortable and irrational to some members of your team. You’ll need to think through these emotional objections and find ways to overcome them.
What are the advantages of the change? This is where you, as the leader, have to keep selling the problem as much as the decision to move toward a solution or the solution itself. You have to find ways to make the problem plain and real to the team so they will want to embrace the solution.
Am I changing too much too fast? You, the leader, must be the governing force on this transition, and you must find the proper pace at which your team can process the transition to move toward the desired position, solution and result.