The Change Cycle: How People Can Survive and Thrive in Organizational Change

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The Change Cycle offers a tested, six-stage approach for successfully navigating common work-life transitions so that you not only get through them but emerge stronger and better able to face the next challenge.

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Chapter One: What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

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It is not the strongest of the species that survives,
nor the most intelligent, but rather the one
most responsive to change.

Charles Darwin

Let’s say you arrive at work one day and are stunned by an announcement that your boss has abruptly quit for personal reasons. Data shoots from your brain’s memory banks to (supposedly) help you deal with this news. After those initial emotional, internal comments (such as Hooray! or Oh no!), you very quickly get to the business of how exactly this is going to affect you. Welcome to Stage 1, Loss (and Loss of Control).

In Stage 1, you are dealing with the knowledge that, for better or worse, to a greater or lesser degree, life at work has changed or will change. You have lost or are

going to lose something: even if it is simply the way things were. And chances are, this change will involve a loss of control for some duration—or at least it will create the fear that control will be lost. Faced with this situation (whether the change is big, with bomb-like impact, or minor), most human beings react in the same way on some level. We feel concern about what might come. We start calculating the potential impact on our particular work-life (and life beyond work). And, no matter our sophistication, part of us kicks into “survival mode.” The thought of the unfamiliar is the trigger.

 

Chapter Two: Facts Over Fiction

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Because things are the way they are,
things will not stay the way they are.

Bertolt Brecht

The angst and wallop of Stage 1—where the workplace change hits and the familiar is lost or will be lost—give way to resistance, skepticism, resentment, and even anger in the stage that follows. We go from squirrelly to some other animal: a mule, a bull, a squint-eyed cat. We can feel we’re being “wrangled” in the wrong direction. Welcome to Stage 2, Doubt.

Having established in Stage 1 that the sky is not falling, you’re now faced with a new challenge: dealing with your doubts about the change. A lot seems unknown. You might have questions both about the initiative and the

leadership behind it and about the grounds of your own hesitance: an internal tug-of-war. This stage is present— in a big way—in all organizational change, and managing it well is imperative.

In Stage 2 emotions run high. Voices can get loud. There might be some harsh words. Okay, there will be harsh words. With blame and anger circulating, communication challenges are as great as they are in Stage 1.

 

Chapter Three: Taking Charge of Now

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Reality is the leading cause of stress among
those of us who are in touch with it.

Jane Wagner

It would be great if the arrival of acceptance, in whatever measure, with whatever degree of enthusiasm (or not), was a rocket-booster sending you straight into Discovery, the stage where things really start to look up. You’ve moved beyond anger and resistance—isn’t that enough? Not really. Make room for Stage 3, Discomfort. It’s a transitional stage, a crossroads where depending on how things go you either develop momentum carrying you toward the green stages or you run into issues akin to your car stalling, grinding gears, even slipping into reverse.

The rub is this: having made whatever peace you have made with the change, having taken some ownership, now you have to deal with it. It’s here, it’s happening, you’re no longer fighting or denying. You are starting to carry out your role in the implementation or upgrade or evolution and it’s not easy. Reality has arrived. It’s sinking in.

And so some of us sink a little. The change can feel like a weight. In Stage 3, with the energy of anger gone, we start experiencing other things, not all of them conducive to productivity and workplace happiness. Things like indecision and absentmindedness. Lethargy. Even a feeling of being overwhelmed. At its worst, here, the weight of the accepted and now-being-implemented change can push some people toward dysphoria and despair.

 

Chapter Four: Decide,Then Take Your Best Step

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The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new
landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust

It’s not quite yellow-jersey time, but if you’ve made it to Stage 4, Discovery, you’re getting close. Some good news right off the bat: entering this energetic, hopeful stage makes it almost a lock you’ll go on and reach the end of The Change Cycle. Furthermore, there’s no more fighting and slogging as you work toward completion, only some choice-points and manageable challenges that engage your powers of self-reliance and resolve.

Managers and leaders, take note: since employee autonomy thrives here, your role becomes more one of a supportive facilitator than a directive task manager. Employees, take heart in knowing you’ll have less need to look outside yourself for information and guidance. That said, the Discovery stage is not just about flying solo. It’s also very much about working together. And not in some dreary forced-cooperation way, or a team-building exercise in the parking lot. You don’t have to take one for the team. No, what makes this a collaborative stretch in The Change Cycle is that you and those you work with are primed for real interactivity, a sharing of ideas and methods, without anxiety or defensiveness.

 

Chapter Five: Making Sense of What Was and What Is

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Change has a considerable psychological impact on
the human mind.To the fearful, it is threatening
because it means that things may get worse.To the
hopeful, change is encouraging because things may
get better.To the confident, it is inspiring because the
challenge exists to make things better.

King Whitney Jr.

In work as in life, understanding sits between discovery and wisdom. You journey into newness, you map what you have seen, you move on to where you don’t even need the map.

If Discovery brought an upsurge of energy, perhaps in a burst or two, and you worked to channel your renewed vigor, in Stage 5, Understanding, something else happens. A calmness comes. An equanimity. The change that threw your life and the life of your company or organization into a spiky, aggravating place, a place uncertain and exhausting, has now become simply a part of things, the “new normal.” The rollercoaster has come to rest. Your world has leveled out.

Not that you step off the ride a zen master. Some things may still—and always—bug you. Nor would we bet you’ve become president of the [insert name of your change here] fan club, dispenser of buttons and souvenir mugs. No, maybe your take is closer to this person’s: I wouldn’t have chosen this change and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but I will say I learned a lot along the wayabout myself, about others, about change.

 

Chapter Six: Change Moves Me

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It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

John Wooden

To come this far, to assimilate a change, means you’ve demonstrated adaptability. But just as we might locate wisdom a notch above understanding, so there’s a resourceful orientation that occupies a spot above adaptability: flexibility. What doesn’t bend will break, it’s been said. Flexibility is vital both for individuals experiencing change and of course for the company as a whole. It’s more than durability. It means ever-present open-mindedness—an openness to learning, receiving, and giving. To understand flexibility in a change context is to 153understand that resiliency can have more impact than strength.

When you are flexible, you influence the potentials. The potential to turn a disappointment into an opportunity. The potential to turn what appeared to be a failure into an achievement—and a step toward even more success. Having moved through The Change Cycle, you’ve experienced firsthand how bending at the right points and accepting forward motion prove more conducive to productivity than stubbornly trying to wait out the transition. This is why choosing change is much more resourceful than risking change choosing you.

 

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