Friday, April 26, 2024
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Change and Uncertainty

I’ve been surrounded by so much change in the past year; to a point where I think I needed to write some things down just to compare where we were to where we are and where we’re going. I’ve been told I analyze all of that info too often but also not as often as I should. There are a couple of reasons why I do this but I figured out that the main reason is because I don’t generally like surprises. With that being said I found this great article about why people resist change.

Here’s an article from HBR (
Leadership is about change, but what is a leader to do when faced with ubiquitous resistance? Resistance to change manifests itself in many ways, from foot-dragging and inertia to petty sabotage to outright rebellions. The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them. Here are the ten I’ve found to be the most common.

#1 Loss of control. Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory. It’s not just political, as in who has the power. Our sense of self-determination is often the first things to go when faced with a potential change coming from someone else. Smart leaders leave room for those affected by change to make choices. They invite others into the planning, giving them ownership.
#2 Excess uncertainty. If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it. People will often prefer to remain mired in misery than to head toward an unknown. As the saying goes, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” To overcome inertia requires a sense of safety as well as an inspiring vision. Leaders should create certainty of process, with clear, simple steps and timetables.
#3 Surprise, surprise! Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted. It’s always easier to say No than to say Yes. Leaders should avoid the temptation to craft changes in secret and then announce them all at once. It’s better to plant seeds — that is, to sprinkle hints of what might be coming and seek input.

#4 Everything seems different. Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit. Routines become automatic, but change jolts us into consciousness, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Too many differences can be distracting or confusing. Leaders should try to minimize the number of unrelated differences introduced by a central change. Wherever possible keep things familiar. Remain focused on the important things; avoid change for the sake of change.
#5 Loss of face. By definition, change is a departure from the past. Those people associated with the last version — the one that didn’t work, or the one that’s being superseded — are likely to be defensive about it. When change involves a big shift of strategic direction, the people responsible for the previous direction dread the perception that they must have been wrong. Leaders can help people maintain dignity by celebrating those elements of the past that are worth honoring, and making it clear that the world has changed.

That makes it easier to let go and move on.
#6 Concerns about competence. Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid. They might express skepticism about whether the new software version will work or whether digital journalism is really an improvement, but down deep they are worried that their skills will be obsolete. Leaders should over-invest in structural reassurance, providing abundant information, education, training, mentors, and support systems. A period of overlap, running two systems simultaneously, helps ease transitions.

#7 More work. Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work. Those closest to the change in terms of designing and testing it are often overloaded, in part because of the inevitable unanticipated glitches in the middle of change, per “Kanter’s Law” that “everything can look like a failure in the middle.” Leaders should acknowledge the hard work of change by allowing some people to focus exclusively on it, or adding extra perqs for participants (meals? valet parking? massages?). They should reward and recognize participants — and their families, too, who often make unseen sacrifices.

#8 Ripple effects. Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles. The ripples disrupt other departments, important customers, people well outside the venture or neighborhood, and they start to push back, rebelling against changes they had nothing to do with that interfere with their own activities. Leaders should enlarge the circle of stakeholders. They must consider all affected parties, however distant, and work with them to minimize disruption.

#9 Past resentments. The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight. But the minute you need cooperation for something new or different, the ghosts spring into action. Old wounds reopen, historic resentments are remembered — sometimes going back many generations. Leaders should consider gestures to heal the past before sailing into the future.

#10 Sometimes the threat is real. Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt. When new technologies displace old ones, jobs can be lost; prices can be cut; investments can be wiped out. The best thing leaders can do when the changes they seek pose significant threat is to be honest, transparent, fast, and fair. For example, one big layoff with strong transition assistance is better than successive waves of cuts.

Although leaders can’t always make people feel comfortable with change, they can minimize discomfort. Diagnosing the sources of resistance is the first step toward good solutions. And feedback from resistors can even be helpful in improving the process of gaining acceptance for change.

Out of the 10 items listed above, I think I’ve experienced working with people who believe that there is a loss of control where everything seems different with concerns about competence. Maybe I’m writing this to try to better understand change and also to find a solution that might fix things. After reading this article I tried to figure out the best ways to deal with change. I found this other article which was written 3 years before the article above was launched (

#1: Recognize that change does happen
When we were children, as the saying goes, we thought, acted, and spoke like children. When we became adults, though, we put childish ways behind us. Our own personal lives change as we grow older. Why should our careers and jobs be any different? Denying that change is or will be occurring, and continuing to live in the past (something my daughters allege about me), only makes things more difficult.

When I teach classes on customer service, I emphasize the importance of setting and managing the expectations of the customer. That principle applies to us personally as well. The more we understand that change will happen, the less upset and surprised we will be when we encounter that change.

#2: Be aware of your surroundings
In his classic work The Art of War, author and military strategist Sun Tzu wrote about the importance of observing signs of the enemy. For example, he wrote that movement among trees in a forest indicated that the enemy is advancing, and that dust that rose in a high column indicated the approach of chariots.
Few armies fight with chariots these days, but the principles Sun Tzu wrote about apply just as much to your job situation. Recognizing that change happens is desirable. It’s even better, though, to recognize when change might be occurring in your own specific situation. Keep alert to subtle clues. For example, are you being excluded from important meetings? Does your boss seem more distant? Is the rumor mill engaged?

#3: Recognize the stages
Because reactions to organizational change resemble those to the death of a loved one, many studies on change cite the work of psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who identified several specific stages in the latter. The early stages include shock and denial (refusing to believe what has happened and instead believing everything will be all right), guilt (at not having done or said more or for not being the decedent), and anger (at the decedent or at God).Later, one passes through the stages of acceptance (acknowledging what has happened) and moving on.

With respect to organizational change, an additional “negotiations” stage can occur, in which the affected person offers to work harder as a way of preventing or forestalling the change.

All the stages don’t necessarily occur. The progression might not be a smooth linear one, and different amounts of time may be involved with the different stages. Regardless, the quicker you get to the acceptance and moving on stages, the better it will be for you.

#4: Communicate with others
Communications is always important, but especially so when you face change. A lack of communications from others can have a negative impact, while effective communications can have a positive one. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, you need details about the change, so that you can determine how it affects you. Don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen. Talk to your boss, your boss’s boss, and your co-workers to get their understanding. When dealing with co-workers, however, be aware that news can be distorted and can be mixed with rumor.

Part of the fear of change involves dealing with the unknown. If possible, try to minimize this factor by talking to others who have undergone such a change. What difficulties did they experience and how did they deal with them? How can you adapt their experiences to your own situation? As the philosopher Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Your communications should involve more than just people in your own department or company. They should involve people in other companies as well. They might have experienced the same change, so their advice has value. They might also serve as contacts should you decide to change jobs.

#5: Do a self assessment
Companies, in planning for the future, often conduct an analysis for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). That type of SWOT analysis can be just as helpful to you. What skills and strengths do you have? Where do you need to improve? By understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, and knowing as much as you can about the new situation, you have a better chance of finding a place to fit in.

#6: Be flexible
Change requires flexibility. The better able you are to adapt to change, the greater your chances of being successful. After you complete your self-assessment, take a look at the requirements of the new situation. Maybe your current job doesn’t fit exactly into it. However, what skills, from your old role, can you apply to the new situation? In other words, instead of focusing on differences, focus on similarities.

Suppose you were a football coach at a university. One day the president told you the football program was going away, and you would either have to coach basketball (something you never did before) or leave the university.
How would you react if you wanted to stay? Football and basketball have important differences, in number of players, size of playing area, and shape of ball. However, they also have similarities. In both sports, you want to outscore the opponent. In both, a coach must motivate players to achieve peak performance and must deal when necessary with discipline issues. In both, strategy, planning, and preparation are vital to success. If you wanted to make this change successful, you would look at the similarities and leverage existing knowledge. You’d then recognize shortcomings (e.g., lack of coaching experience in or knowledge of basketball) and make appropriate plans to address them.

Think in the same way about how you can adapt your own skills to the new environment.

#7: Continue to do your work
I’ve been through reorganizations, and they’re no fun. Regardless, resist if you can the temptation to just sit there. It’s easy to have that attitude, because you don’t know if your work is going to mean anything tomorrow or the next week. Still, you’re being paid to work, so try to do so. Furthermore, that attitude could impress a future boss.

#8: Be positive in actions and attitude
I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna, but keeping a positive attitude can help you deal with the uncertainties of change. For example, instead of worrying about changes you will have to make, focus instead on how you can leverage your existing skills and experience, as in the example of the football-turned-basketball coach. Looking for opportunities in the new organization, and becoming involved, will hasten your adjustment.

#9: Maintain your network
Your network of contacts, both inside and outside your company, can serve a valuable function. They can share with you their own experiences of change and tell you of job opportunities. More important, they can be a sounding board for your ideas and share with you their emotions about the change.

Build your network by keeping in touch with school and college classmates, former co-workers, bosses, and subordinates and by meeting colleagues at conferences and conventions.

#10: See the big picture
We discussed the example of the football coach who had to become a basketball coach. That person has a better chance of success by looking not at the small picture, i.e., specific differences between the sports, but rather at their Change can be frightening, and disruptive. However, with the right attitude and actions, you can find opportunities in that change.

These are some great tips. Out of this list, I like #6. Be flexible. I tell people I work with that “During times of ambiguity, do not be like the strong oak that breaks in a storm. Instead be flexible like bamboo.”

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Edel Alon
Edel Alon
Edel-Ryan Alon is a starving musician, failed artist, connoisseur of fine foods, aspiring entrepreneur, husband, father of two, geek by day, cook by night, and an all around great guy.


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