Implementing Change, Part 1: With More Predictability than the Weather

If you’re like me in that you wish every day was summer, but you happen to live in a place that too soon will be covered with snow, you might be feeling some anticipatory blues. Yes, there are still many months (hopefully) until we need to pull out our hats and gloves (see my previous post about putting them away!) But, just the occasional chill in the air and the noticeably shorter days reminds me where we are headed–and that’s a long, cold winter.

In my work in organizational change and my desire to understand how people react to change and handle transitions, I often find it helpful to reflect on my personal reactions towards changes in the weather. Understanding my own feelings of anticipation and loss as the seasons cycle allows me greater empathy towards individuals in organizations where they experience changes that are also seemingly not under their control.

Organizations are their own world and the people within them often are at the whim of the leadership or the marketplace–feeling as vulnerable as we do when the seasons change. And, while we as humans have mastered indoor heating and air conditioning to protect us from the elements, all we need is a week of rain to remind us of how much we need sunshine or a debilitating blizzard to reinforce our lack of control. Even just feeling the temperature drop, watching the leaves fall, and noticing the days getting shorter reminds us that there are greater forces at work, and that we must adapt i.e. wear a jacket, or find ourselves cold.

Whether people in organizations are facing the natural ebbs and flows of organization life i.e. the yearly busy tax season or the arrival of the latest wave of new hires or are experiencing much larger disruptions such as a merger, new leadership or new systems and processes, the resulting feelings are similar and stem from a sense of lack of control.

Recognizing that people within organizations often feel at the whim of the organizations and have a lack of control, is an important data point to consider when designing any sort of organizational change. The more you can minimize this lack of control the better. Engaging people in the process, frequently communicating, and making the process as predictable as far out in advance as possible, supports people in feeling more of a sense of control and predictability.

Our nature as humans is a huge part of how we react to changes and transition in our environments. Stay tuned for Part 2: Implementing Change That Recognizes Our Human Nature where I describe a bit more specifically a model that addresses some of the key feelings we feel as humans within organizations. I also list some questions you should ask yourself during the change process in order to make sure you are considering the human needs of your employees.