Monday, July 11, 2005

On Change

Recently I worked with a group who had been experiencing a huge amount of change in their work environment. Changes in physical location, equipment, team membership to name the key ones. Yet when I had the group do a tick box checklist of all the changes they had personally experienced in the last year both in and out of work one man ticked only one box. On being asked how he managed only one tick in spite of so much change identified by everyone else he replied, “I only marked the change I didn’t like. If I like it I don’t regard it as a change”.

This is an interesting notion around change when for many of us our instant response is to regard change as a negative experience or as guaranteed to be stressful. I could say that change is just change and the only constant is that all change creates ripple effects.

It is the assessments that we make about the changes that make the difference. At work an announced or even impending change can generate a range of responses from “about time – can’t wait” through to “how dare they?”

In the work environment this variation of assessment around change can cause further breakdown of relationships. People can be labeled as “over emotional”, “uncaring “, “resistant” and so on. This doesn’t allow for the validity in the first instance of everyone’s response to the changes. Each of us does have an emotional response to change. What varies is what this response is and how we manage it. My suggestion is that each response needs to be heard and then managed if the changes proposed are to be integrated well into the work environment.

From this same tick box checklist we look at a number of considerations around change based on the number of ticks and the domains that these ticks have occurred in. A larger numbers of ticks and therefore changes, say over ten, may explain why we are so tired and therefore a need to consider self care strategies.

Here too we consider whether as individuals we like and go seeking change or whether by preference we like constancy in our living. What I might find boring living might be another person’s idea of too much change and stress.

If most of our change is at work we may find that home provides with us balance or vice versa. If lots of change is happening in all domains we may have the sense of going from the fire to the frying pan on a daily basis.

Another key factor to our experience with change is whether we have chosen the change or the change has chosen us and we feel the change has been imposed on us.
While the outcome of the change may eventually be the same we often start from a different emotional place depending on our assessment of chosen or imposed.

This simple starter exercise very quickly allows a group to see how one particular change can have significantly different impact for different members of the group and how differently they may perceive the same change.

Our previous experience of change and how we think and speak about change can influence any future experience of change. Those in the group I mentioned earlier who had changed countries and jobs let alone the changes in their current workplace were generally more philosophical and accepting of the changes. They spoke of knowing from prior experience that things sorted themselves out, that there were things that they could do to help themselves through the changes. Other often younger people, where life is just constant change, spoke of wondering what the fuss was all about. Still others spoke of being distressed and disturbed by changes they hadn’t wanted and couldn’t see the point of.

My key offer is the concept that we shape our experience with our assessment of change. This assessment comes out of our previous experience with change and the anticipated impact of any further change.

It is important to know ourselves, to be a good observer of ourselves and change. This involves monitoring how much change we may have occurring, how in line with our preference for change this is, the nature of these changes, chosen or imposed and where the changes are occurring for us. There is not a right or wrong response to change. However knowing yourself you can maximise the opportunities of the change and minimise the stress that change can bring.

Knowing yourself well how might you handle change in your life to thrive rather than just survive?

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