I remember sitting in a coaching session discussing change. How would we (new leaders) lead change in our organizations? The facilitator said, “Only babies like change you know, wet diapers are just plain nasty!” We all shook our heads in agreement and avoidance of the real question hanging in the air. How indeed would we prepare for change?
I remember the answers coming slowly. None of them wrong; all intentional, thoughtful, and calculated. Everything from working on buy in at the onset to systematic planning, roll out including taking care of the teams’ physical needs with extra coffee and donuts to keep morale up.
The work of change is swimming in the deep as Geoffrey Canada refers to it. Metathesiaphobia, the fear of change is all about overcoming failure which can paralyze an organization or team destined for growth. Team members may fear the future, may need guidance, have unclear expectations, and lack confidence in themselves.
The biggest take away from the session was more about the leaders than the change. The real question was simple, did we have the capacity to teach people to trust us, build confidence, while changing the established plan? Could we tame the expectations monster that is cloaked as a new direction, refined vision, expansion, new programs, evidence based evaluation, etc. The change is a process that begins and ends with us and our attitudes toward the process. If fears could hold our organizations hostage, what tools could we develop, how could we win? Were we willing to handle the nasty diapers? Could we swim in the deep end? We had to address the issues that would allow us to slay the change monster.
- Embrace the leader’s attitude. We are bigger than the process. Leaders in the session spoke about positive rituals and mantras that kept them going. Some started the day with gratitude and mindfulness. One leader thanked staff members who worked in new ways to “test” the change first and encouraged other staff to stop by and check in on them. Talk around the water cooler about the refined processes outside of scheduled meetings and change became relaxed and conversational rather confrontational.
- Address fears head on. What we are afraid of we will hide from. Changing the scary movie posture from eyes half covered to full on observation in an organizational forces every member to take ownership of his part in the change. Hiding from the change makes the process laborious. Many hands make light work. Telling everyone that the organization is changing seems like a no brainer, however some leaders had failed to acknowledge the change and teams rebelled and refused buy in.
- Getting out of our own way. Leaving the comfort of the past is hard to do even for organizations that are struggling. The comfort zone is the safe place where every person knows and understands what and how to do. Change pushes us forward to seek new ways of working and thinking outside of the established comfort zone. Sometimes the whole organization can’t step out at once. Teams and departments may be selected to pilot a change and report on new processes that can be implemented wider and broader.
- Fearing the loss of control and changing roles. People are creatures of habit and like what has always been! Change forces us into new roles and sometimes the lack of control over situations and information often cause people to be fearful and lack confidence. One leader revamped position descriptions to match the change. Knowing the level of responsibility, accountability, and reporting structures helped each person accept the new vision for expansion.
Change isn’t easy. It’s messy like dirty diapers and often brings out the worse in the best people. To slay the change monster consider your best self. What do you want to know, need to know, and need to feel comfortable to do your best work? As the leader, bring your best attitude to the difficult process of leading your organization to a new place. Make the path smooth by allaying the fears that are expressed and hidden.