Understanding and Coping With Change

Published December 28, 2012 by Mayrbear's Lair

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We live in exhilarating times.  Western civilization is witnessing the greatest changes everywhere since the Industrial Revolution.  If we want a deeper understanding of the prospect of change, we are forced to pay heed to our own powerful inclinations to avoid change.  Most people have a low tolerance for change because we are individuals of habit that follow mindless daily routines.  In nature, growth involves periodic accelerations and transformations.  Initially, things appear to progress slowly.  Nothing seems to occur when suddenly, an egg shell cracks, a blossom blooms, or a butterfly emerges.  In fact, when it comes to forces of nature, the most widely addressed and studied topic is what physicists call entropy – the process by which dynamic systems that include (a) people, (b) organizations, (c) automobiles, and (d) solar systems, gradually fall apart.  It is hard to make significant changes in any human group without changing an individual’s behavior and the underlying meaning that gives rise to their behavior (Kegan & Lahey, 2001).  Once change does occur, it is inevitably disruptive.  The fact is Americans in general have always been in some state of transition with Old World families that can be traced back to the home of their ancestors.  New destinations and new career opportunities keep people moving driven by faith and a belief of better things to come.  Even though it opens the doors to new opportunities, most people are hesitant to embrace change.

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Resistance is Futile

An extensive transformation is taking place in organizational management between employers and employees.  The lessons learned about how job security, training, and internal development that improve employee assurance and performance, have given way to a new set of teachings regarding how companies can reduce fixed costs, increase flexibility and improve functionality by eliminating the intricate employment systems that traditionally prepared employees for extended careers in their organizations.  The old procedures protected employees from external market forces.  The new arrangements drag the market by downsizing, incorporating provisional workforces, outsourcing jobs, and compensation plans that are contingent upon organizational performance.  Morale is down and stress is up, driving employee performance up largely due to fear of the shortage of good jobs (Cappelli, et al., 1997).  As a result, individuals experience changes in their jobs in ways they cannot control from both internal and external factors.

At some time we all experience change in the workplace and are inclined to devise short term solutions as mechanisms to cope.  When a person feels a lack of control, or is entering a new domain, it can increase levels of stress and potentially affect a person’s ability to perform competently.  According to John Kotter’s management theory, employees who are prone to resistance share common motives that include: (a) self-interest, (b) a lack of understanding to the nature of the change, (c) a lack of trust in management, (d) differing assessments of the need for change, and (e) a low tolerance for change (Baack, 2012).  To help reduce the internal factor that manifests as stress, one must learn coping techniques and strategies to help with change in a manner that allows more self-control, as well as the ability to continue performing effectively.

One type of external factor that contributes to an individual’s resistance to change can occur in the form of a job promotion.  For example, through hard work and dedication the individual is rewarded a higher position for their effectiveness within the institution.  The internal component that emerges is customarily one of excitement and a renewed motivation to perform at higher levels.  An element of resistance may surface however, from the additional level of commitment expected that involves lengthier hours and extensive travel.  For the most part, the employee embraces change for reasons of self-interest since it increases their level of power, money, prestige, and job security, as well as the personal conveniences that accompany the new appointment.

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Pattern Interrupt

In an organization, a person’s attitude plays a key role to how a transition pans out.  The pace of change can make an individual feel disoriented and with an uncertain helpless sensation.  People begin to lose faith when routine patterns of daily life are interrupted.  Transitions appear meaningless without a sense of accomplishment.

The process of change involves three stages (a) an ending, (b) a period of distress and confusion, and (c) a new beginning for those capable enough to embrace it (Bridges, 2004).  The fact is that every transition begins with an ending.  That key component in my view is the first step to accepting change.  In the meantime, Kotter developed the following eight step plan as a model to help individuals embrace change more effectively:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency and a compelling reason to make the change.
  2. Form a power coalition to lead the change.
  3. Create a new vision with supporting strategies.
  4. Communicate the vision to all involved.
  5. Empower others to act on the vision which includes the encouragement of risk taking and creativity.
  6. Plan for and reward short-term “victories” that move toward the new vision.
  7. Consolidate improvements, reassess the changes and make the necessary adjustments.
  8. Reinforce change by showing the relationship to organization success (Baack, 2012).

In addition, supervisors can respond to an employee’s resistance to change through strategies that include tactics in communication, education, involvement, facilitation, support, participation, cooperation, manipulation and coercion.

When people are unable to change in the workplace, it can come with a great price to the organization as a whole.  For instance, it can impact health, productivity, well-being, and also affect motivation and individual performance levels.  Another strategy leaders encompass is the development of a plan that includes an analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).  The SWOT strategy encourages ideas that minimize areas of weakness and limit threats; keeping focused on maximizing strengths and opportunities (Stockdale & Steeper, 2012).  No matter what approach is used leaders need to understand that change is often unsettling and to expect that employees will be uncomfortable for a while.

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Personal Experience

Within a few years of my employment at Capitol Records, my supervisor received a promotion and was elevated from his title of Director to Vice President of Business Affairs.  We were located at the historic Capitol Records Tower at the corner of Hollywood and Vine streets.  The new VP position was at our sister label EMI-America located a few blocks away.  At first, I was nervous, apprehensive, and unsure of my role in this new situation.  Would my boss request that I accompany him or would I remain at my current place of occupation under the supervision of his replacement?

Initially I was resistant to the change for two reasons (a) I was concerned about the dynamics of working for a new individual and (b) I was not enthusiastic about relocating from the legendary tower.  The questions I now faced were: (a) which aspects of this new position required a change in me, (b) what was stopping me from embracing this change, (c) what was likely to change for me, (d) how urgent was the change, (e) who besides my boss was involved in the change, (f) what was causing my resistance, (g) what would success look like for me, (h) how did I expect to make the changes needed, and (i) how would I measure the pace and progress of this change for me, my supervisor, and the organization (Stockdale & Steeper, 2012).  My supervisor made his decision and invited me to join him at the new facility.  Although I would miss my friends at the tower, that decision came as a relief.  I continued working for the same compatible boss; I was guaranteed job security; and as a bonus I received an increase in salary.

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A transformation took place between employer and employee with respect to how job security, training and internal development improved our commitment and performance as a team, giving way to a new set of lessons, while we continued to work together towards a long career at our company (Cappelli, et al., 1997).  Equipped with more information, I was able to address my questions, manage my concerns from a more balanced perspective, and became enthusiastic about the new work paradigm.  I released the language of fear and doubt and accepted the language of commitment.

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Conclusion

Most of the power in the world is external.  It is generally fabricated from the ego and plays an important role in the external factors of change.  It influences the military, police and security; politics, financial institutions, social situations, and both the private and corporate arenas.  The internal factors of change on the other hand, are contingent upon the development of one’s inner power and personal freedom.  Information, knowledge and perception are three key components to increasing personal strength and balance.  Integrating spirituality and psychology is beneficial in developing inner power and personal freedom.  An individual that possesses inner power displays personal fortitude, strength of character, discipline, psychological integration and a spiritual serenity (Wilde, 1995).  A person that displays an obsessive personality in contrast, can become emotionally overwhelmed making it more difficult to embrace change.

In conclusion, the future is uncertain, whether it’s a manager, a job, an employment status, a working style, or an industry that’s changing.  Fostering a solid strategic plan is the key to making changes we encounter, a smooth transition.  In these times of economic turbulence, it seems ironic that the only constant is in fact – change.

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References

Baack, D. (2012). Organizational behavior. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Cappelli, P., Bassi, L., Katz, H., Knoke, D., Osterman, P., & Useem, M. (1997). Change at work. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA.

Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2001). How the way we talk can change the way we work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Stockdale, S., & Steeper, C. (2012). Cope with change at work. Reading, Berkshire UK: Teach Yourself.

Wilde, S. (1995). Whispering winds of change. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.

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