Change Management

Today I attended a meeting of human resource management and related practitioners. The group started to discuss interests. While there were several topics that interested most individuals, one topic definitely interested everyone in the room. Everyone was interested in change management.

I find that a lot of conversations today sooner or later turn to change. How do you deal with change? How do you make changes in the organization? How do you help the organizational management understand how their employees deal with change? Even how do I make lasting change in my own behavior/skills/attitude?

In my last posting, I mentioned the results of a survey that Dr. Cathann Kress had conducted on why organizations fail. The first item identified was poor communication and the second item identified was inability to change. Employees mentioned that a significant reason for why organizations fail is the unwillingness to let go of familiar programs and/or irrelevant programs. So even though what employees are doing may not be working or may not be considered relevant, there is still reluctance to make a change to something more effective or productive.

This survey finding fit right into what the group was discussing this morning. What keeps people from making changes even when they know they need to make those changes for the betterment of their organization or personal life?

To explore these questions, we need to understand the basic dynamics of how people approach change. When I am faced with a change, whether it is one I have chosen or one that has been “forced” on me, I find my immediate response is to think about all that I have to give up. I am pretty content to maintain the way I have been functioning. I have to consciously think about what I’m doing. I have to work at making the new behavior a part of my day. At the same time I am grieving the loss of my old behavior. It is like losing a part of me.

Once I start to work to make the change happen, I become totally focused on myself. I don’t seem to think about or even notice that others might be experiencing the same change or going through a change of their own. It seems to me that no one else is experiencing what I’m experiencing. While my experience is definitely my own and not the same as anyone else, perhaps I could find some camaraderie among those going through change as well. But to make this connection with others, I must first be able to get outside myself. And without help from an outsider, I may not be able to make this switch in perception.

Another dynamic that I have noticed in the change process, is the impact of facing several changes at the same time. I have noticed that I can deal with a few changes at the same time, but there is a limit to my being able to make the adjustments needed. If I have to face too many changes at the same time, I find that I try to hang on to my old ways longer. I distinctly remember when I graduated from college. Not only was I forced to leave the school that I had grown to enjoy, I was also forced to look for a job. I also had just gotten married and needed to develop a relationship with another person and adjust to her behaviors. I remember my father asking me a simple question about what I was going to do and I responded with something stupid. I believe I said something like “go back to elementary school where everything seem to so simple.”

It was clear at that time; I was not really ready for all those changes. From that experience, and many years of reflection and study of human behavior, I learned that people are at different places for dealing with change. Some can handle it immediately. Others must process it and take more time and support to work through it. We are not all ready for change at the same time.

Another dynamic that I learned was when I did youth counseling. I discovered that it is not enough to announce the change and step back and watch it happen. To make certain the change actually took place and became a part of the new behavior, I discovered that you must keep the pressure on for enough time to make the change a permanent part of the new behavior. I would watch young people who went into substance abuse treatment and stay only a few days or a few weeks come out of the treatment only to return to the old behavior. When the youth stayed in treatment long enough to make the changes needed a part of their everyday way of operating, then they did not return to the old behavior patterns. To make change a success you need to continue the new behavior long enough to have it become a part of the new “normal” you.

As I think about the meeting this morning, I begin to realize how difficult it is to really understand change management. The fact that it is different for everyone makes it extremely hard to plan for and implement.

Until next time, when you are faced with a change or helping someone else deal with a change, spend the time needed to fully understand what that change means to you or the other person