John Kotter was one of the first to document a change cycle. William Bridges helped many to deal with the stress of change with his book on transitions. Others too numerous to list followed in the subsequent decades, creating mounds of change cycles and ways to master the chaos of change.
Yet change angst still plagues us. We live in an impermanent world. The old trope–the only thing that does not change is change itself–says it all. Change is always with us, always around the corner ready to pull our rugs out from underneath us. Relentless change takes away our comfort zone of knowns, and plunges us into the dread of unknowns.
DON’T MANAGE CHANGE, BUILD RESILIENCE
By Dr. Alice Waagen
I have personally experienced a bucket load of change in the last six months, having sold my house of 30 years and moved to a new town. During this time of total upheaval, I kept nearly daily journals of the change process and my ability to cope with the subsequent stress and frustration. My evidence-based conclusion: there is no such thing as managing change, much less leading change. My apologies to the hundreds of business leaders I have coached over the years on change management, inundating them with various change models and methods.
My new approach to change is to accept its inevitability and to focus my energies on building resiliency, flexibility and adaptability. I aim to be like my favorite cartoon character of old, Gumby: bounce, bend and stretch rather than snap, break and shatter. Keep your mind open to the new as opposed to whining about the lost old. Laugh. Reflect. Learn. Move on.
As I journeyed through my own change chaos, I adopted certain activities and mindsets that helped ease the transition. One of these was to consciously build new routines, repeated patterns of behavior that lent some consistency to my day. For example, once the move upended how I spent my time, I established a regular structure to my day including when to get up in the morning, when to go to bed and when to eat meals. Repeating this schedule daily allowed me to better utilize my time as well as helped reduce uncertainty and increase predictability.
My main de-stressor was to differentiate between what I could positively impact and manage, and what was out of my control. When the cable guy would show up was a “scheduled” eight-hour block of time. Stupid to have to hang in the house that long but nothing I could manage. Electing to grocery shop in the morning when crowds are minimal, I can manage. Compartmentalizing what I could and could not affect gave me a sense of accomplishment and control.
Of course, the danger of routines is that they can instill a false sense of stability. The constancy of change means that a set routine will have to be adjusted over time. To avoid the angst of having external events disrupt a routine, I regularly disrupt it myself. Do things radically differently for a day or so and assess the damage. Sometimes I went back to the old routine, other times I realized it was not as efficient as I had believed.
I learned quite a bit in these few months about navigating change and building resilience. In subsequent blogs and newsletters, I plan to share some of the insights I’ve gained being my own learning lab on surviving change. In the meantime, throw out all those books and articles on change management and shift your thinking to building resilience.