The Critical Nature of Change: How I learned to love the leap of faith
I was asked an interesting question last week which made me think of the nature of change and the way I approach this often scary notion. On the surface, the question was rather simple, should they change jobs. They went on to explain the new job would pay less and have a longer commute but would (seemed) be a healthier work environment. Yes or no answer.
That’s how the question was posed. Two choices; stay at the old job or move to the new one. Our group of friends chimed in with their opinions. Some said tough it out and save the extra pay. “Better the devil you know” — and all that. Others encouraged the person to make the move to a happier place. “Be true to yourself.”
I was a wise guy and said “consider the third way”.
A Transition Between States
Today I want to walk you through three things; the nature of change, how change is really just a transition between states, and what I call “the third way”.
Some people try to avoid change at all costs while others revel in it. In the end it depends on how you perceive risk. I have been involved in a lot of change; both personally and professionally. I’d like to say it was all planned and optimistic, but I’m sure most of it was unplanned and opportunistic.
Even so, I like to think there are subtler forces at work. We can look at our experiences and see patterns. From these patterns we can seek to understand.
Change follows a natural course; a repeating pattern that once understood can be used to your advantage by focusing your energy in the right places.
In my career I have been a consultant; an agent of change. I would go into organizations around the world and introduce new systems and processes. I know firsthand what constitutes a successful implementation of change and what real failure looks like.
Organizations introduce new systems and processes to create positive change, for example reduced costs, improved revenue or to mitigate an impending negative event. This is an example of purposely injecting a change into a stable system to achieve a different and better future state.
Each implementation of change saw common, repeating phases.
First, the honeymoon phase. While nothing of significance had changed yet, everyone was excited and positive. The people stayed wide-eyed and hopeful, drinking the Kool-Aid about how great the new state of things would be. Of course there would be fence sitters pretending to go along while looking for opportunities and signs of failure where they could pounce and say “I told you it wouldn’t work!”
The second phase is the point at which you throw the switch on the new system or process and everything starts changing. People become hesitant as they are not familiar with the change and the learning curve hits them. The fence-sitters start warming up their “I told you sos”. The sponsors get called into uncomfortable meetings and I would get emergency phone calls. I call this phase the trough.
Third is the recovery and growth phase as people come up the learning curve, internalize the new systems and all the indicators start pointing up, up and away. There is much rejoicing and I am on a plane to the next client.
Fourth, and finally, is the new state. Eventually the new process is fully internalized by the organization; it stabilizes and becomes the new normal. Everyone forgets about the second stage and management starts looking for its next dose of positive change to start the process over again.
What is the take away for us here? Why do we care? Because all change is like this and you will go through these four phases time and again regardless if the change is something you proactively undertake or something forced upon you by circumstance.
The trough of despair (that’s what the analysts call it) doesnt have to be this way. You need to understand what is happening and what you can do about it. The actions you take and the attitude you have will directly impact three important aspects of the change curve within the trough.