(Note: This is a re-edited version of an article Mayr posted on LinkedIn).
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.
Many of us 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. In addition, new destinations and career opportunities keep people moving – driven by faith and a belief of better things to come. The sad truth is, that even though it opens the doors to new opportunities, most people are hesitant to embrace change because of the unknown.
However, change is inevitable. It’s part of the growth process. In fact, extensive transformations are 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.
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:
- Establish a sense of urgency and a compelling reason to make the change.
- Form a power coalition to lead the change.
- Create a new vision with supporting strategies.
- Communicate the vision to all involved.
- Empower others to act on the vision which includes the encouragement of risk taking and creativity.
- Plan for and reward short-term “victories” that move toward the new vision.
- Consolidate improvements, reassess the changes and make the necessary adjustments.
- 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.
The truth is, that 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, for instance, 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, however, 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.
Well, that’s it for this week! Thanks again for stopping by. Have a great weekend everyone … and stay organized!
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Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill. – Buddha
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.