Making the Change: Information or Process

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a community group to address an issue related to change of a long standing program. It was a visioning exercise to examine where the program needs to be in the future to be “striving and thriving.” Upon reflection of that experience I was once again reminded of how important it is to understand how humans deal with change and what is needed to help people prepare with change, especially change that is unwelcomed.

I thought about how many times we approach dealing with change by presenting information and trying to logically convince people of the importance of the change. We usually forget or even ignore the need to address the emotional aspect of the change situation. We focus on creating a well planned and prepared presentation that will hopefully answer everyone’s questions before they even ask them. However, in this approach we fail to recognize that human beings are not only logical, they are also emotional. Without taking this fact into account we usually end up in long debates with highly emotional reactions and are faced with trying to figure out how to “win” the battle.

If we would only recognize that it is normal and natural for human beings to resist change, especially when someone else tells us that the change will be good for us. Then we might decide that approaching the change situation from a logical perspective with lots of information and data is not a wise idea. Instead, we might try a different approach that prepares people for the change. An approach that gives them a chance to cope with the change and recognize how the change will impact them may create a much different and more desired outcome than a battle.

This different approach does not rely on bringing in experts to present the facts and debate the issues. It starts with bringing people together to celebrate the past and honor what it means to the people involved. It includes an opportunity for the individuals involved to be able to express their concerns and to grieve the loss of the past. By providing this opportunity people are now more willing to look at the future and examine what is needed. By helping people see that the current reality is a result of the past decisions, the future will depend upon the decisions made today. With this understanding of human nature and the time to process people through the change and transition experience, we might find our work less stressful and with more buy-in for the proposed change.

To begin a change process with this new and different approach requires a different set of skills. No longer is there such a strong dependence on subject matter expertise. Instead there is need of group process and interpersonal relationships. There is need for individuals who can structure this kind of experience and not be seen as a person promoting a specific outcome. Instead of an expert role, a catalytic and facilitative role is required.

So the next time you are faced with a change situation and are struggling to figure out how to avoid an all out war, perhaps you may want to review the research and literature around facilitation and catalytic leadership. You may find it quite interesting that to bring about change you need more than just facts and information. Instead, you need to understand how people handle change. You may need less subject matter expertise and more process expertise.

In the next few weeks, pick a change that you are facing and begin to look at it from a different perspective. Ask yourself what would help the individuals involved be better prepared for the change.

Until the next time, enjoy the changes because there will be plenty of them.