Leader Volume 9, Number 10
Hathaway helps organizations manage change. She is author of three
books including Untying the
‘Nots’ of Change Before You’re Fit to be Tied
(Destination Publications, Westerville, OH, 2000).
She can be reached at 1-800-339-0973 or www.thechangeagent.com.
As mergers keep
increasing, more and more people are affected by significant
levels of change. Add to the merger boom, increasing competition,
organizational reorganizations, and changes in governmental
programs, and you will find a rare person not
affected by change.
How do most
people react to change? I think Alexander Graham Bell's quote
applies, "When one door closes, another opens; but we often
look so long and regretfully upon the closed door that we do not
see the one which has opened for us." Most people
instinctively resist change. I typically see four phases through
which people react to change.
the Pain - people do just that - they ignore the fact that a
change is even occurring. Their focus in on what others
are doing to them. They make comments such as, "Why are they
doing this to me?" or "It will never happen." They
tend to avoid any information that pertains to the change(s).
When people begin
Feeling the Pain, they
recognize that this change is going to be worse than they
initially thought. They experience a sense of loss over what used
to be and they mourn the "good old days." People ask,
"Have we been doing it wrong all these years?" They feel
like they have no choice or control over decisions which affect
This is the most
difficult phase because of the painful reactions. I find five
types of reactions in this phase:
1. Keep to
Yourself and Lick Your Wounds - You stay to yourself and deal with
the pain alone. You don't allow others to know how you feel. Your
internalized stress skyrockets and it begins to negatively affect
your attitude and productivity.
2. Whine and
Manipulate - You are angry about the changes and whine behind the
boss's back to other people. You try to manipulate the system for
your own agenda regardless of the impact on others. Morale in the
organization becomes affected negatively.
3. Hiss and Pick
Fights - You become aggressive and say things in anger. You no
longer care about others' feelings and your main goal is to make
other people feel as miserable as you do.
4. Mark Your
Territory - You decide you can't influence the entire team so
you'll just stick to your territory. You cover and protect any
mistakes or problems in your department or area or responsibility.
Warmth -You don't share information with the rest of the team that
could be beneficial. Since your boss appears to not recognize your
contributions to the team, you are not going to share information
with them. Information is power.
some actual examples of reactions of people in the first two
phases of resistance. The most common reaction is to withhold
information; people may leave the organization; lots of whining
and manipulation (one organization I know gives out "No
BMW's" T-shirts - BMW stands for "bitching, moaning,
whining"). Some employees concentrate on their product
in order to avoid the process
of change. Other employees pick fights with their peers over
territory issues. Many employees are fearful because they don't
get much information from their leaders and the leaders firmly act
as if they have the new "right way" to proceed and
therefore need no input from their staff.
In Heal the Pain, the focus is still on self and how the changes will
affect me. But now, at least we are past “feeling” the pain
and the focus on yesterday and are now beginning to look to the
future and challenge for tomorrow. It is important to note that we
are still on the bottom of the cycle and we are still dealing with
One of the main
things people experience in the “healing” phase is
organizational chaos and indecisiveness. Indecisiveness in many
organizations is what they call committees or task forces. The
organization doesn't know exactly what the game plan is so they
assign a committee to help them figure it out.
Many people just
want their boss to tell them what “The Plan” is. In reality,
there is no specific, concrete, well-defined, set-in-stone plan --
particularly when it comes to defining the how-to's of the change
that’s being introduced. Most
game plans are fluid in nature and may and will change as the
What is critical
in this phase is for you to give your input and ideas into the
plan and for the management team to listen to your ideas and
concerns. The second critical aspect of this phase is to learn to
forgive those who have wronged you in the past so you can move
into your future.
It's almost like
a coach at half time giving the team information and revising the
game plan prior to the second half of the game. Sometimes the
strategy/game plan the coach originally designed doesn't work out
in the “real world.” Effective team players need the strength
and ability to give honest input from a front-line perspective.
Why return to the game with a plan that you know will not work?
people build enough trust in the leadership of their organization
to consider committing themselves to New
Growth for Tomorrow. It means making a commitment to a
not-exactly, non-specific, vague tomorrow. The best analogy for
this final phase is marriage. For those of us who are married, how
many of us really knew what marriage was going to be like before
we got married? Very few of us. Yet most of us hopefully and
willingly made our commitment to our spouse -- even with all the
unknowns. Does this mean that every single day we absolutely love
and adore our spouse? Hardly.
I once heard a
well-known evangelist interviewed about his 50+ year marriage to
his wife. He was asked the question if he and his wife ever
discussed divorce. Without hesitation, he replied, “Divorce no,
murder yes.” I think I’m in good company and so are you. Even
though we love our spouse, we may not absolutely like them all the
The same is true
with your organization. When you make the commitment to New Growth for Tomorrow
for your organization and their vision for tomorrow, it
doesn't mean you will always like what’s going on in your
organization or the direction they are headed. But, it also
doesn't mean you are any less committed to the organization. I
believe commitment is a gift you give yourself because riding the
fence and wavering with your commitment only means you’re
prolonging an inevitable fall in marriage and in your
How would our
world be different if we were all 100% committed to our marriages?
How would your organization be different if all its employees were
all 100% committed to the success of your organization? It would
be much more difficult to fail. When you only give part of
yourself to success in your job, you are asking for failure. It
means constantly updating your resume and looking for other
options. Remember, the grass is always greener on the other side,
but it still needs to be mowed over there. If you think you're
going to leave your current organization for a less tumultuous
organization, in most cases, you will be in for a rude awakening.
Change in organizations is the norm, not the exception nowadays.
Instead of leaving your current organization, consider learning
how to effectively cope with change and you will learn skills that
will last you for a lifetime.