This article was based on episode 116 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the guest bonus when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase a full episode guides at themodernmanager.com/shop.
In the past five months, I’ve moved from the city to a small town, adopted two dogs, started eating dinner with my kids every evening, stopped traveling - for work or for fun, incorporated cycling on a Peloton to my exercise routine twice a week, started having social dates via FaceTime...the list goes on and on. I’m not alone in that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant changes to how we work and live.
Yet, if you asked me now if I’m experiencing extreme change, my answer would be ‘no.’ At this point, I’ve settled into the feeling that this is the new normal. While that is true for me, it’s not true for everyone. Some people are still sitting with a lot of uncertainty and some are still navigating changes. Regardless of where you’re at this very moment, there are things we can do to help ourselves and our team members move through the emotional and practical experiences of change.
CHANGE IS A JOURNEY, NOT AN EVENT
For most of my life I thought about change as an occurrence. It was something that happened or was decided. And everything that occurred after the change was the mess the comes with accepting the change. But recently, I learned of a different model. In this version, change is not an event, but rather the time between a starting point and ending point. Change is the journey between what was and what will be. Once the change is complete, it becomes the new normal.
This concept of change as a journey speaks to the internal experience of adjusting to a new reality, no matter how big or small. At some point, you’ll have worked through the roadblocks, emotional states to the point where you’ve internalized the change. It’s then that the change will be normalized, ending the change journey.
APPROACH THE CHANGE JOURNEY WITH CARE
Experiencing change is often hard, but when you approach it with care, you help yourself and others move along more seamlessly, reducing the stress and decreasing the time it takes to arrive in the new normal.
Here are seven things to consider that will impact the change experience.
1. How much say or ownership did you have in making the change?
The same change can be experienced completely differently depending on whether you chose the change or it happened to you. It’s human nature to want control over our lives. When we decide to change, we feel empowered. When change is thrust upon us, even positive changes, we can feel out of whack.
Whenever possible, include people in the process of determining the change. Or, give people a choice by allowing them to opt into the change. If neither is an option, focus on what you (or they) can control to help stay grounded.
2. What is being lost? What is being gained?
Any time there is a change, even a positive one, it requires us to let go of something in order to gain something. It’s not always clear what is being lost, nor is it the same for each person. For example, one team member might experience an emotional loss of independence when their team transitions to a shared task manager.
In addition to the losses, not everyone experiences gains in the same way. The manager may appreciate the transparency that comes from knowing where work stands while other team members don’t find that valuable at all.
Take time to peel back the layers and explore what is being lost or must be let go of in order to make room for the new. Consider what is being gained and what value it brings to each person involved. As you identify the losses, give yourself or others time to grieve. As you identify the gains, you can talk about ‘what's in it for me’ in a way that actually resonates.
3. Where are you along the emotional change curve?
Researcher Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed the Emotional Change Curve that depicts stages of grief and acceptance. These stages explain the general flow of emotions as a person moves from point A to point B. These phases are (1) Shock, (2) Denial, (3) Frustration, (4) Depression, (5) Experimentation, (6) Decision, and (7) Integration.
When you understand where you or a team member is along this emotional journey, you can offer more effective support and encouragement.
The Emotional Change Curve was developed for the context where change happens to you. But when you choose the change, the initial two phases of Shock and Denial are often replaced with Enthusiasm followed by a Honeymoon. Initially, you are highly energized by what’s coming. Then you experience a high, where the change is joyful or the effort you’re making doesn't feel so intense. This is similar to running on an adrenaline rush. But then it gets tiring and the reality of the change starts to set in. At this point, you return to the more traditional pattern of emotional change.
Check in with yourself or others regularly along the way. It can be easier to adjust when you see your emotional state in context. It can also reduce the changes that a change journey fails by never making it past the frustration or depression. In these instances, there is a return to point A when perhaps, a bit more emotional stamina would have moved you forward.
4. What knowledge, skills, environment, and motivation does success require?
Change is never as simple or contained as we want it to be. Even small changes can require major shifts in us - what we think or know, or what skills we need or rely on. In particular, our environment plays a significant role in how easy or hard it is for us to integrate a change.
Many times, we experience more frustration or encounter more roadblocks because we’re missing the knowledge or skills needed. Or, our environment is not conducive to the change. Add that all of those are motivation drainers, further reducing our chances of moving quickly through the change journey.
Sometimes you need to be in the midst of change to figure out what’s most needed. Take time to pause and reflect along the way. Use those moments to identify what support could be provided or what modifications could be made to ease the overall experience.
5. How big or small is the change, really?
Some changes seem big but are actually quite small in nature. Other changes seem insignificant, but are surprisingly massive. Taking a step back to investigate the implications of the change can help us get a better sense of its true size and scope.
For example, I recently changed the website domain for The Modern Manager podcast and membership community. On the surface, this seems like a minor shift, but as I explored whether to change the url, it became clear that moving the show off my personal website would have major implications in both the short and long term. It would require greater differentiation between the podcast and my personal brand. I would now need to manage two websites instead of one. And, I had initially overlooked how I would feel once the show was independent of my personal brand.
Don’t let the perceived size of the change fool you into thinking it will be easy or hard, long or short of a journey.
6. Are you experiencing the change alone or as part of a group?
Research on social psychology shows that change is easier when we are part of a group. The social pressure tends to help promote the desired behaviors and attitudes. Having the support of others who are on the change journey with you, who can cheer you on and whom you can learn from, and your ability to reciprocate, can make the change journey so much more manageable.
Whenever possible, incorporate others into the change journey with you. Find an accountability partner or set up a community of practice. Or, if the change is happening with your team, talk about it. When you create space and opportunities to talk, to normalize the ups and downs of the change journey, and to solve problems or make adjustments along the way, you increase engagement in the change experience.
7. What is your individual change tolerance?
There are people who generally thrive on change and people who generally struggle with change. Neither is good or bad, it’s simply how we process the world and the specific change we are experiencing. Whenever you are on a change journey, it’s inevitable that fellow travelers will move at their own pace, despite how much we may want everyone to travel together.
So be patient with yourself and your colleagues who may be going slower through the change journey than you’d like. And when it’s needed, ask for their patience in return.
Remember the change journey isn't over until the new reality is normalized. Approach the experience with thoughtfulness and you’ll make it through to the other side with fewer bumps and bruises.
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This article was based on episode 116 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.