We talk a great deal about change in our practice. The only constant in life is change. And it’s so true! Every project you take on, regardless of size or scope, creates a change in the status quo. That kicks off several stages of change that result in a series of predictable emotions and behaviors.
Sometimes they’re easy changes, ones you look forward to, such as getting a promotion or moving into a new job at another company. But you still go through all the stages of change similar to the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief – shock/loss, denial, bargaining/acceptance, sadness/depression (the hang-in point), and finally acceptance and even excitement about the new reality.
Think about the change of moving into a new, challenging job. You go through a sense of loss because you lose your colleagues in the department or company you’re leaving. You may experience a little denial, telling yourself it’s time to move on and you won’t miss your colleagues. You may experience sadness about the memories and friends you left behind. Then you accept the reality of the change – you’re moving on, it’s a little scary because you don’t know what to expect in the new position. You’ll be meeting new people and having to figure out how to work together.
If it’s a new management position, you have the challenge of learning how to delegate and manage others. Then as you think about the challenges ahead, you begin to see the possibilities and start focusing on the new challenges you’re taking on. And finally, as you adjust to the new position and get to know your team and your colleagues, you begin to feel excitement and passion for taking on the challenges and helping the organization move forward.
Depending on your circumstances, you can go through these emotions quickly, in a matter of minutes or hours, or it may take days for you to cycle through the stages of change. If the new position is something you pursued, you’ll likely move through the stages of change quickly. If it’s something that happened to you and not one you actively sought, then the adjustment could take longer – even weeks or months.
Frequently, especially when people aren’t involved in creating the change and instead are just told about it, a few will never adjust. They can move between the states of depression and anger for months or longer (the hang-in point), unless the manager is skilled at either coaching them through the emotions or invites them to find alternative employment.
Sometimes, the people remove themselves to find other employment options more suited to them. Either way, the organization suffers if these individuals are allowed to remain in a state of anger or depression. They can turn a positive environment into a negative one, putting a blanket of confusion, doubt and concern on the change process.
As a leader it’s important to recognize where your people are in each of the stages of change and coach them through their emotions. Your goal is to get as many of them to the other side of the emotional rollercoaster as soon as possible, and to quickly remove those who just can’t get on board.