Individuals can only handle so much change, and we usually don’t even realize that too much change is what is causing some of the problems we’re experiencing.
Until people reach their breaking points.
Last month I received one of those calls. The CEO of a fast-growing IT company called at 7 am. “You got a minute?” he tentatively asked. I could tell by the tone of his voice it was important. After a quick glance at the clock and my task list, I decided I did have a few minutes.
“What’s up?” I asked him (we’ll call him Pete). Pete went on to explain that a third employee gave his notice yesterday. Better opportunity. Three really good people in six months. Pete rattled off all the benefits he was providing, the new and exciting projects, and he mentioned that the salaries were above average for the positions.
After a little probing, it was starting to look like there was just too much change at once, and people were starting to check out. All the classic signs were there:
Multiple changes in management in a very short time
New products and processes, and new people
Increased interpersonal conflict on teams
It appeared there were some who were emotionally checked out (just putting their time in)
More complaining and blaming
Sick time and tardiness had also escalated
Lack of clarity and accountability
But Pete and his leadership team were focused on fixing each issue, rather than looking at what might be causing these issues.
Pete and I scheduled a time to meet to start looking at what was happening, and what could be done - quickly. He knew if this was a lack of engagement issue, it would take time and effort to turn it around.
Pete didn’t realize how critical it was for his Sr. Leadership Team to be managing change, which would prevent many issues. Not only is everyone different when it comes to how and when they embrace change, but the amount of simultaneous change also impacts a person’s threshold for change. Combined with the fact that we all have personal change scenarios to manage as well, it gets even messier.
Since most of us are hard-wired to resist change, and resistance causes stress, it’s no wonder we’re seeing the fallout.
To prevent the fallout from people resisting change, we need to carve out time and attention so the change process can be respected. A few tips to get started:
Take a good look at all the major change that is happening in your organization. How many new projects or products, IT system changes, reorganizations, new employees, etc.
Have a clear vision for each major change initiative, and help people believe in it.
Provide as much information as early as possible.
Respect the change process. People progress from the current state to the future state differently
Understand DiSC styles and how they impact change.
Knowing and caring about each person will help you be aware if they have a lot of personal change happening that might also be impacting them. Divorces, marriages, moves, babies, breakups, family member issues all add to the change threshold.
Be realistic about the time it will take to go from the current to the future state.
Be mindful of your desired culture and don’t sacrifice it for short term gains.
Measure people’s engagement levels. The method you use will depend on your company size.
Provide training and development in change management, leadership, emotional intelligence, and effective teams.
The only thing that’s constant is change.
And the amount of change seems to be compounding. The only way to sustain the change we’re trying to make, and to save time and money in the long run, is to intentionally lead people through that change.
I can recommend a few good books to help you with change management:
Wired to Resist: The Brain Science of Why Change Fails and a New Model for Driving Success by Britt Andreatta, PhD
Leading Change by John P. Kotter
I also cover this topic in my book, Leading with GRIT: Inspiring Action and Accountability with Generosity, Respect, Integrity, and Truth in chapter 6 - The Five Steps of Change
I’d love to hear your change management stories! Feel free to leave those stories in the comments along with ideas or questions about managing change.