This second installment in a series about leading change dives beneath the surface to the emotional undercurrents churned up by change. Underneath good strategy lies understanding. Understanding the price tag of change alters the way you will lead the way through a time of change.
Any new initiative, any restructuring, any process of change will extract a significant price from everyone affected.
Don’t hear me saying that the price is not worth the payoff. Far from it. However, I am saying that leadership means more than just getting the job done. Good leaders shepherd people through the minefield of change even when that change is tough to swallow. Those who lead without attending to the price of change are likely to charge their trusty steed of hope & promise right through a crowd of innocent bystanders.
This pricetag? Loss.
All change—even the most necessary and most beneficial change—creates loss. Loss produces grief. And, grief is a non-linear unmanageable emotional journey.
What’s even tougher is that this price tag of change is paid before the return on your investment pays off. Loss and grief happen up front. You lose what was familiar, what was comfortable, the written and unwritten rules by which you operate, long before the new takes root.
Anyone who has been around the block a few times, knows this experience. It’s one of the reasons why reasonable people understand the value of your well-articulated proposal for change, but look at you like you suddenly grew horns. Those folks might be processing the price they know this initiative will cost them.
Let’s translate this sensitivity into actionable behavior
Speak truth about the pricetag:
Sometimes we simply need to stop selling and start connecting. Why do we talk endlessly about the benefits of a proposed change, but rarely pause to acknowledge the loss and destabilization it might cause? Why do I do that, even when I know better? Downsize your promotional instincts a bit and take time to name the hard and soft costs of these changes. Give voice to the hardships people know or fear might be coming.
The dissonance others feel is legitimate. They are going to feel loss and grief. Don’t deny it. Acknowledge it, talk about it, and talk about what it might mean to navigate the unknown together. Do so and you’ll close some of the divide between leaders and followers.
Shepherd people through their loss:
You cannot cheerlead change into existence. It takes consistent behavior to keep the flywheel of change turning. So, why not change your posture. Let go of any need to convince people to cheer up and instead pay attention to their well being. People are for more than the productivity they contribute. Your people are your greatest asset. Treat them that way.
Listen to old timers as well as new comers. Find out what they feel. Put yourself in their shoes and empathize with them in the losses that are stacking up. Give them room to vent—sometimes grief just comes out sideways. Be ready to listen expectantly, sometimes the most creative ideas emerge from people in the deepest moments of change-driven destabilization.
Stay the course:
Change is not an announcement. It is a long deliberate slog. Change begins when you pull away from the dock of security, sail off into unknown waters, and hope the world doesn’t turn out to be flat. There are seasons when the trying to find a new normal feels like wearing someone else’s clothes that are three sizes off. It takes time before new culture, new systems, new methods, even new language takes root. The new normal cannot be penciled in on your calendar.
And, this long slog through the tenuous no-man’s-land of implementing change causes leaders to give up. It causes people to give up. We think it isn’t working, we aren’t seeing the results we expected, or that the price is too high. The truth is, because real change takes so much energy to initiate, by the time you think you are halfway you are probably getting close to your preferred future. The most important thing you can do during the middle zone of change is to stay the course. If it was right to begin the journey, it is worth finishing it.
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Next installment in this series on change coming Friday.