What better way to introduce my spring newsletter than to show spring flowers? I love my irises; they are so gaudy, glamorous and upbeat. No more of the bleakness of winter when these proud ladies show off their purple glory.
Nature gives us Spring as our season of the most change. Grass goes from trampled and soggy to vibrant green sprouts. In the metro DC area where I live and work, we have a constant parade of blooms from cherry blossoms to azaleas and dogwoods in a matter of weeks. Spring also brings lots of life-changes, mostly positive ones like graduations and weddings.
But, in the work world, change can take on a more sinister dimension. Spring can be a time of disappointing bonuses, insignificant merit increases and unsettling budget resets, externally-driven changes that can demoralize any worker. Change that is imposed on us, not driven by us, can be frustrating and stressful. Managers have a particularly difficult job of managing their own reaction to change while monitoring the emotions of their staff in dealing with these depressing announcements.
Over the years, I’ve observed that facing the emotions of change and managing reactions to change yields the best results for the business. Read more below to hear my tips for managing the emotions of change in the workplace.
So use the beauty of spring and all its new growth to learn and enjoy!— Alice
MANAGING THE EMOTIONS OF CHANGE
By Alice Waagen
Change is a constant. When I first taught change management more than a decade ago, I would talk about change as an event that could be managed; it had a discrete beginning, middle and end. In those days, we talked about the change cycle, the phases of change and transitions one would navigate as if we were on a particular nasty white-water rafting trip and would soon anchor on calm shores.
Those early phased theories are still of value to help dissect an isolated change event. But they fall a bit short when applied to our hectic, techno-driven, economy-challenged business environments today. Rarely do we find ourselves now at a calm shore, at a stasis point, where life is predictable and serene. More and more I am struck by the thought that managing change effectively means managing people effectively, managing the emotional rollercoaster havoc change can wreak on minds and bodies. In a sense, managers need to teach themselves and others how to acclimate to the permanently frenzied and unpredictable environments in which we now live and work.
I find that change is best understood when broken into its three component parts:
1. The Change itself – I call this the WHAT of change. Look at what is, see what will be and the differences are the organizational functions, processes, products or services that will become new.
2. The Change Process – This is the HOW of change and includes the plans, projects, milestones, measures, metrics and mechanics that will be used to implement the change.
3. The Change People – this is the WHO of the change, all of the individuals involved, their emotions, (engagement, denial, acceptance and so on) and the behaviors those emotions evoke.
In the business world, we are very good at identifying and reacting to the WHAT and HOW of change. Managers can put together great project plans, assignments, and accountabilities. Where I see more challenge is on managing the people element, the WHO. Business leaders get nervous when I talk about the emotional component that change produces. You can’t chart, graph or map emotions so folks are apt to ignore them. But managers ignore these emotions at great peril.
A well planned and executed change effort can be seriously derailed and damaged by not attending to the emotional states of those involved. When resistance runs high and unchecked, it can grow into denial, resentment and anger. These negative emotions damage performance and can, in the worst cases lead to sabotage. Unfettered positive emotions can be equally damaging. Selling change too strongly can produce a collective euphoria where people ignore warning signs of trouble and blindly push through faulty and error-riddled decisions. Unexplored emotions can cloud judgment and produce ill-thought out products.
Let me share with you some tips I offer managers who are leading others through organizational changes.
• Periodically use an emotional gauge to determine the current emotional state of the people dealing with change. Imagine a continuum with anger and depression on the far left and euphoria on the right. Where are folks right now? What are you hearing and seeing in others when you talk about new processes, procedures and organizational design. By periodically gauging where they are on the emotional roller coaster ride, you can judge whether they are thinking clearly and making sound decisions.
• If your gauge reads to the far left and you find others anxious and stressed, take time to inventory what they know and don’t know about the change. Fear of the unknown is the trigger for most of our negative feelings. If we focus only on the unknown, we will put ourselves in a fearful state of mind. Instead, shift to what you do know and leave the unknown to emerge and be dealt with over time. Focusing on known facts and issues gives people a sense of control, driving the change rather than being driven by it.
• Shorten your focus. One of the hallmarks of constant change is unpredictability. I may be able to understand what is next and to control or influence now, tomorrow and next week, but what next month looks like is pretty fuzzy. Pull in and focus your efforts as far out as you have some sense of certainty of outcome. This will reduce the frustration of failed attempts at predicting a murky future. In most chaotic workplaces that I visit, managers and their staff feel comfortable with a 30 to 90-day future outlook. Beyond that, they can hazard guesses at action and results but with less certainty of outcomes.
• To balance the short view, periodically take the long view. Ask yourself, what will my actions today look like a year from now? Managers who permanently fix their vision on the here and now can be abruptly blind-sided if they ignore all indicators of a different future.
I see this conscious change of focus from the current and controllable to the future and unknown as the prime way to manage change anxiety. Managers acquire valuable knowledge when they continually monitor their emotional state and the state of those around them. If they work to adjust the collective vision so that everyone has the greatest comfort and productivity managers can minimize the paralyzing effect of too much change, anxiety and stress. After all, being able to sleep nights and be reasonably cheerful during the day is not a bad goal to set in these tumultuous times.