Change is often a messy business even if you have the most detailed plans and the best strategy. Time and time again I have seen businesses embark on change and be surprised by the resistance, problems, and conflict which unexpectedly arise. In this week’s article, I lay out some common factors I have seen which usually aren’t directly addressed. Unless they are given some focus, change can at best be slowed, or at worst, be sabotaged completely.
Change has been quite a topic for me this week, both from a personal point of view and from some of my clients. Change models are helpful and I have found with clients that any approach to change and therefore the preferred model, depends pretty much on the situation and the preference of the person wanting to instigate the change.
Standard models, like Kotter’s “8-Step Process for Leading Change” are effective and helpful, and for some are enough. I always find it helpful to illustrate Lewins “Force Field Theory of Change” when looking at resistance to change, although even setting out how behaviours and resistance will manifest, doesn’t usually prepare people for the actual experience of these phenomena when the process is underway.
Levels of change are best described in Bandler and Grinder’s “NLP Logical levels” which is for me one of the most helpful models, because it clearly describes the hierarchy of change.
There are many more models out there, so why is it then when change is happening, even when teams are aware of the Kubler-Ross change curve, does it often become so distasteful, stressful frightening and difficult? Is it simply because the experience of actually going through change is much messier than the models lead us to believe it will be?
Through years of experience of leading change and helping to lead change I have found some common factors which help to make the process of change much easier, less painful and less problematical. These factors I call AWAKE. I am not a big fan of acronyms but without any effort the five factors fit, so without apology I present them in this way, because you never know, thinking of AWAKE might help you to remember these factors the next time you are involved in a change, whether personal or work based.
The five factors are all about the energy which is brought to the change. It doesn’t matter which model is used, if the underlying energy isn’t right then the change will be more difficult; take longer and be riskier. I have broken the factors down as follows.
Any change needs to have attention. This is about the concentrated focus of the mind and the mind-set either in your personal life or your organisation. To achieve real successful change, the change must become the most important thing in the universe during the time it takes to initiate, implement and achieve the outcomes. It is akin to Kotter’s first step about creating urgency, but it is more than that. If you have several programmes, projects or changes going on at once, then the order of attention, priority and importance must be determined. If too much is going on, attention is diluted, the change is slower, and the impetus is lost.
It doesn’t matter if your change affects a team, an organisation, your family, or it is an individual change, like giving up smoking or moving house. As an individual you have different aspects to your personality just as much as there are different personalities in a collective change. For example if you want to give something up, then there are parts of your personality which don’t want to. If you want to change something in the organisation then there will be people who don’t want to. There will also be aspects of you, which do want the change, and people in the team who embrace change readily. The difficulties arise when opposing parts of yourself or people in the team become pitted against each other, even if this is in the short term, and this is when conflict arises.
If you recognise that when change occurs, all parts of the organisation (or all parts of you), need to be understood and listened to: Then conflict is understood and dealt with, and any potential for hidden or unconscious sabotage or resistance is lessened. Coming from the power of “We” takes a certain level of maturity because it needs the understanding that “we are all in it together”, “the sum parts make a whole”, and “everyone counts”. The stock phrase for this dynamic is that “we are changing, and we all count”.
I would like to bet that instigators of change believe they have the right attitude because they fervently believe that they want the change, they know the change is for the better, it can benefit all. They have a vision and they understand deeply the benefits. Sometimes though, during the change, conscious or unconscious doubt becomes apparent. The doubt is not about whether the change is needed, it is about whether the change can actually be made. For individuals they may fear their own levels of resilience, or for leaders they may doubt the ability of some of their team to make it. The attitude to change must be one of “Can do”. It sounds simple I know, but that resistance if not uncovered right from the outset can slow down and sabotage change unwittingly.
If any of you have gone through difficult or long-winded change which has proved stressful, combatant, or fraught with problems, then along the way you may have experienced the tensions and conflicts brought out the worst in everyone involved. If at the outset, you make one of the conditions of change to be kind to one another (or kind to yourself); the energy of the conflict, resistance or problem simply has to change. It might sound corny, but if you are talking about a particular problematic aspect or dealing with fears or resistance, to start off the interchange with “How can we remain kind in this situation?” just changes the dynamic.
The AWAKE model is all about the often unspoken energy which is brought to the process of change. To acknowledge the process of change as energy can be empowering, as it raises awareness. There are two further aspects of energy to consider:
Firstly, Newton’s 3rd Law, “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions” and
Secondly, Ghandi’s often misquoted declaration; “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him”
What these mean in practice is: If you voice your frustration, or have low expectations about yourself or the people involved in the change then that becomes your experience. If you complain about others, then you are slowing down the change, because the energy you are emitting becomes part of the change process. Even though you might think others don’t notice, on the level of energy they know something isn’t quite right, and they will react accordingly.
So there you have it: Are you AWAKE when making change?
If you’d like to find out more about some of the strategies and techniques I have found over the years I led and managed team, sign up for my weekly blog. If you sign up today, you can download my free eBook; The Magic of Seven
Christina has managed people for twenty seven years and led hugely successful teams. She has worked with people at all levels in various organisations to help them achieve their potential, and she has been actively involved in the learning and development field in a number of different roles.
People Discovery is a Leadership Development coaching consultancy, based in North East England, working globally.
By Christina Lattimer
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