by Erica Bennett
If you Google the phrase ‘change management’, you will find that it generates 472 million results. Astounding, but not at all surprising to me or my colleagues. The word ‘change’ is a powerful little word fraught with anxiety and fear for most people, particularly those who want to avoid change of any kind like the plague.
Funny quote, and certainly a truism for many if ever there was one! It’s also not a very realistic way to live life, as I am sure most of us can attest to. Whether the change is imposed on you, or whether something in your personal life precipitates it, change is an inevitable part of life. The anxiety that accompanies most change occurs because we simply don’t know what life will be like on the other side, so to speak. You literally cannot see the forest for the trees. As I often tell my son who lives with generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety results when you tell yourself a story about something that has not happened yet. You create all sorts of future realities that may or may not happen, and often without enough information to justify your picture of the future! While some anxiety is a normal response to the stress of future changes…it is something that that you can manage, and often with better results.
As a coach, I often find that people really struggle with the inability to accept that the current reality they live in is never a fixed entity. Certainly there are processes and structures that govern how work is done, and for the most part these elements of the job are fixed and can be relied on. Yet what happens when a change occurs that is outside the realm of your norm?
Do you balk, get upset and play the role of victim?
Or, do you roll up your sleeves, accept that life as you know it has changed, and figure out a way to make the best of it?
So What Can You To Do to Leverage Change and Make it Work for You?
The key to getting beyond the fear of change – at least for me – is figuring out how to get beyond the muck of uncertainty that leads to feelings of anxiety to a place that allows you to actively figure out what’s next – and ultimately how the change can work for you.
As I wrote earlier, we know that change is precipitated by some problem that needs to be solved or issue that needs to be resolved. Either way, what results is a new reality. What is needed is a way to get from where you are to a solution that addresses the issue that precipitated the need for the change. Currently, I am taking a course in design thinking – a human-focused method for problem solving that involves processes and tools based in design to help companies and individuals create new and innovative solutions. Basically, design thinking asks you to consider four questions that can help you discover new ways and approaches to solving business problems. I think these four questions can also anchor a person’s attempts to make sense of change and generate a different perspective about the impact of the change. The questions are:
- What is?
What is the current reality you are dealing with and how does it impact you? Getting clear about this allows you to begin to see ways that the change in question might actually be a benefit. A thoughtful assessment of your current situation may help you see how the less than desirable aspects of your current reality can be impacted by the change in a positive way! This may be a challenge if the change is an imposed one. Either way, the change IS going to happen. Why not take stock of where you are, and begin to prepare to tackle the next question in the process…what if?
- What if?
Here, you begin to brainstorm and consider new possibilities and to envision what a desirable future might look like after the change. What will the new reality look like? The sky really is the limit when asking this question. How might the change in question address those areas of your life or career that haven’t been fulfilling? Again, even if the change is a difficult one, your brainstorming is bound to produce ideas that can begin to help you accept the change – and even begin to get excited about it.
- What wows?
Now it’s time to fine tune your ideas about how the change will manifest itself in your environment. Here you spend time looking at the many different ideas and options you have developed, and begin to focus your efforts on one or two that can make a huge impact. This is the BEST part of the process – one that allows you to link your ‘what if’ to ‘what could really be!’ Consider what it will take to pull off the future you have envisioned and think through the resources you will need to make it work. Which of the realities you have envisioned have the greatest chances of success – and which will feel right and authentic for you? How will others be impacted by this new reality?
- What works?
In design thinking, this is the stage where you would build a prototype to test your idea and see if the idea in fact works and will have appeal to your customers. For the purposes of managing change, this is the time to test your new reality and the ideas you have created to see what works and what doesn’t. Try out one of your ideas that wows, see what works, and make small tweaks to get the desired result you want. You may have to try a few options before you determine the best path for yourself.
Given enough thought, these questions will allow you to get you excited and feel less anxious about the future. In fact, I believe you will feel more empowered and committed to the change – and the future you are actively crafting that will allow you to take advantage of it.
Just get curious about what can be. Doing so will certainly allow you to feel less like a victim of change, and more empowered to contribute to your future reality in a purposeful way that works for you.