Facing Change Head-On

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Just mention the word “change” and most people cringe. While we may look at change as the enemy, it’s a reality we all must face every day of our lives. Nothing would exist without change. We would never have been born if our parents hadn’t changed (grown up). We would never learn new skills, advance in our careers or seek new challenges.

We have all lived through an astonishing period of change. The last 50 years have brought the invention of:
  • The birth control pill, the artificial heart, and organ donor and transplant programs
  • Radio and television
  • Nuclear energy and its inherent problems, credit cards and their inherent problems, and the ballpoint pen
  • Frozen food and air conditioners
  • Pantyhose, clothes dryers and electric blankets
According to futurist Faith Popcorn, change will continue to accelerate as much in the next 10 years as it has in the last 50, and as much again in the five years after that. So consider:
1940 to 1990 = 50 years of change
1990 to 2000 = 50 years of change
2000 to 2005 = 50 years of change
According to this theory, if you live for another 10 years, you will actually live through 100 years of change!
Even Change Changes
“Sometimes the only thing we can count on is change!” says Patricia Wilson, author of Change: Coping with Tomorrow Today (National Press Publications, 1992). “But in addition to these changes, another kind of change is taking place in our society. We are undergoing a shift in our belief about what constitutes power.”
People first identified power with muscular ability. Those who could run fastest and throw the spear farthest were more likely to kill their next meal and survive another day. Later on, the leader with the most armies, guns and bombs was the conqueror. Might made right. More recently, money became the basis for power. We fought to keep up with the Joneses. All we needed for success was more, more, more which we bought with money, money, money. Today’s information is the power unit. According to Wilson, “Those who continuously adapt, use new ideas, and learn new technologies and how to access information are the owners of future power. To use the resources of the information age, to supply innovative, appropriate and timely service to customers’ problems are the true marks of success.”
If you doubt this wisdom, consider Bill Gates. He fought to make his dream come true, and information has made him one of the richest men in the world. Change is like a driverless car coming toward you down the street. You have three choices. You can be reactive and jump out of the way. You can be nonactive and do nothing. But you risk heavy consequences for your inaction. Or you can be proactive. You can run along with the car, jump in and steer it the way you want it to go. However you choose to handle change, be assured that the car will keep heading your way.
The Circle of Change
According to Wilson, change has three constants:
  • Change is a reality in any living organism.
  • Being a problem solver means more change.
  • The continuous circle of change cannot be ignored.
The circle of change goes like this: The present includes change, which leads to a problem, which leads to a solution, which leads us back to the present and more change.
Here’s an example …
  • The Acme Packaging Company uses a manual system of invoicing (present reality).
  • The invoices are often late, so the company introduces data processing (change).
  • Employees don’t know how to use the new technology (problem).
  • Training sessions are scheduled (solution).
  • The invoices are handled electronically (present reality).
  • Some invoices don’t meet the criteria of the new system (change).
  • The new system must be changed (problem).
  • The circle goes on and on.
“How we deal with the change circle will determine how successfully we manage change,” Wilson says. “Remember the one thing we cannot do is ignore the circle of change.” “The light at the end of the tunnel is a train.” This and similar attitudes can stop you from dealing with change effectively. Deep down, many of us still believe that people who look forward to change simply don’t understand what that light at the end of the tunnel really is!
Looking at Change with a Positive Focus
Since change is a fact of life you cannot change, it’s up to you to change how you look at it. By looking at change openly and honestly, you can begin to deal with it from a rational viewpoint rather than an emotional one. To put change into perspective and add a structure for dealing with it, start with these two simple steps:
Step One: Describe the Change
  • What caused it? What happened or is happening to put the change into consideration?
  • What is the exact nature of the change being proposed?
  • How will the change affect your responsibilities? What specific issues will the change directly affect?
  • Who is responsible for implementing the change?
  • What system will be used to ensure the change succeeds?
Step Two: Recognize the Imposition (Decide who is doing the imposing, who is pushing for the change)
  • Boss or management
  • The system
  • The customer
  • You
Boss- or Management-Imposed Change
Boss-imposed change may come from a new boss or from a company merger, which brings about fresh insight, identifying where change is needed and will be beneficial. These changes create several questions:
  • Can I do this? You may be afraid you won’t be able to do what the new boss asks of you. You may fear losing your job if you don’t handle the change correctly.
  • Am I the one to do this? New management may not be aware of your individual responsibilities and may wrongly assign tasks involved with the change.
  • Do I need to redefine my job? If the boss is firm on his assigning the change task, you may need to redefine your job description to accommodate the change.
  • What retraining or education is available to help me deal with the change? Seek out retraining to avoid failure and to stay valuable to the company.
  • Do I have any say in the change? Can I use my knowledge, expertise, interpersonal and leadership skills or group dynamics to bring about the desired change? By doing this will it position me to receive a bonus, promotion, salary adjustment, or overtime privileges?
  • System-Imposed Change
Change often stems from an outdated system. The old system no longer works and something has to give. This type of change also poses questions.
Is it within my responsibility? This is one of the hardest questions to deal with in a system-imposed change. While you may see changes that would help the system, you may lack the authority to bring them about. It falls to you to convince your bosses of the wisdom of your suggestions. Remember that offering a resolution is more diplomatic than simply complaining and is a positive way of dealing with a failing system.
Is it worth doing? The change must be measurable and positive or it’s not worth carrying out.
Do I have time? Do others? When implementing change, always consider the time commitment required.
Customer-Imposed Change
When a company realizes that its customers are unhappy, it’s time for change. Ultimately the changes must satisfy not only the customer but the company as well. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Can I do what the customer wants? Hiring more service representatives so the customer gets helped more quickly may make the customer happy.
  • What is the bottom-line impact? Hiring more service representatives would mean a sharp increase in costs.
  • Will I keep my customers? A large price increase may well lead to a reduction in the number of customers.
Self-Imposed Change
Often change comes from burdens you place on yourself. You switch word processing programs; you go back to school; you make career changes. You can diminish the negative impact of these changes by anticipating difficulties that may arise. Ask these questions:
  • How will this affect the work I do? Before tackling self-imposed change, consider the damage you may do to your job. Will you have less time or make more mistakes because of the additional pressure? You need to prepare yourself and others for potential problems during the implementation of the change.
  • Can I control this? If the change will hurt your work, you must have some degree of control over it. Seek flexibility. Avoid requirements that the change be carried out a certain way and within a certain time frame.
  • Can I delegate parts of the change? Self-imposed change leaves little room to delegate. But persuasion can take the form of delegating if you can convince others of the need for change.
  • What are the opportunities? How do I create winners? Consider WIIFM. “What’s in it for me?” definitely applies in this situation. To successfully convince others to go along with the effects of your self-imposed change, you need to convince them there’s something in it for them too. Do opportunities exist for them, such as acquiring new skills or making their jobs easier?

It may come as a surprise that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a fast-moving train. Instead, it’s the sun that appears when you consider the positive side of change and prepare for it. So take the challenge. Look at change in a new, realistic light that lets you control the effects of change, not the other way around.

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.