It is almost certain that all of us will experience a change in circumstances in our working life, so we must learn how to manage it, advises leadership expert Katherine Farnworth
Changes in our working life might see new processes being implemented or a change in the team. Most of us will also know how we feel when faced with change. Do you like change, find it exciting and adapt quickly? Or do you find yourself resisting change and would, ideally, prefer things stay as they are? It seems to be just the way we are, but might also be just a question of pace. That it simply takes some people longer than others to go through the ‘change curve’, but eventually all of us are capable of accepting a new situation given time and understanding.
The change curve is based on a model originally developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Whilst there are many interpretations of this model, in essence, an individual goes through four stages of change. Those who consider themselves to like change, still go through these stages, just quicker.
The stages are denial, emotion, questioning and acceptance. The stages can also apply to a ‘positive’ change, as well as what might be perceived as a challenging change. Just think of the lottery winner who promises to, ‘still be at work on Monday’. Maybe they will stay in their job, but it could also be a ‘denial’, a wish to maintain the status quo, whilst they process the impact of their win.
When managing people going through change it is firstly important to understand how you respond to change yourself. As the leader, if you don’t like change yourself, it may be useful to seek the advice of a peer who is comfortable with change, to ensure your resistance does not affect your communication which should engage and motivate.
Once having looked at your own reaction, then turn your attention to the team. How do you feel each individual responds to change? You will probably know, but if not, then ask. The first two stages, denial and emotion, might see the team asking lots of questions like: ‘Why are we doing this?’ or ‘Here we go again’ or they may ask why change something if it’s working ok? But interestingly they don’t seem to want a response. It’s almost a rhetorical question, asked as a way to vent possible frustration. However, as a leader you need to move your team along the change curve, so just keep gently repeating the change is imminent, and allow people the opportunity to air their concerns, for a reasonable amount of time.
The final two stages normally finds the ability to hear returns. During the questioning phase people might ask: ‘Okay then, so how could this potentially work?’ or ‘How can I make the most of this situation?’ They seem to accept guidance at that stage. People are slowly adapting and finally reach the final stage of acceptance. Some people can get stuck in a phase, others storm ahead and can possibly be used as ‘change champions’ to mentor their colleagues.
As a leader it is important to ‘tell’ the change is happening, but then move to coaching, asking open questions to give people a voice, so they can work out themselves how they can adapt and move forward.