We Ignore Individuality in Workplace Change. That’s Our First Mistake

I’ve been told that I’m not the best role model concerning change. To be brutally candid, I agree with the characterization. I tend to balk at the mere whiff of a change — holding on to hope that it won’t come to pass. (Then adjusting my course will not be necessary.) Honestly, it’s a problem. I do come around. However, I need to go through the paces in my own way.

As you may have read in this post, many of us can struggle with even the smallest of changes — muddling along until the “new normal” finally appears. Until that moment, we might feel annoyed and completely out of sync. I think we all have a ratio of stability vs. change that feels comfortable at that moment. (I feel stability is a vastly under-rated quality in work life).

For better or worse, my “go to” reaction is to keep things frozen, until carefully considering every aspect of the situation.

Unfortunately, holding time at bay usually isn’t an option.

Regardless of my failings, I acknowledge the value of flexing our workplace “change muscles”. However, knowing ourselves is likely the first place to begin when building this skill set. I believe that we all have a leading predisposition when faced with change at work — and this represents both our collected experiences and temperament. Of course, this influences our strategies when reacting to change as well. That’s where things get tricky.

We need to come to an understanding of where we begin and recognize how this affects our responses going forward.

If you manage others, think of what this might mean for your team. When facing a needed change, as individuals we are staggered in our starting posts, so to speak. As a result, we progress at different rates — with varying concerns. Managers are challenged to explore these concerns and pose strategies to help the process move along (ever mindful that resistance could signal issues with a change or how it is introduced).

Overall, the realization that we tend toward one predisposition or another, is a crucial step. We might moderate slightly with the nature of the change — but we all lean one way or another.

Here are some of the predispositions I’ve observed over the years:

  • Piners or Grievers. These individuals lament the coming of change, even when it is inevitable or necessary. They may grieve for the roles, policies, procedures and co-workers of days gone by. They do move on eventually — but often with decreased fulfillment, satisfaction and an obvious measure of sadness.
  • Researchers. An unbridled penchant to gather information is the leading response for this group — as looking at the issue from all angles often helps them move on. Unfortunately, a leading by-product is “analysis paralysis”. Another issue: time may not be a negotiable. (This would be where I fall, although I pine at the very start.)
  • Supporters/Embracers. These individuals are generally open to change and feel excited to contemplate the future. They may not always be the primary driver of change (but could be), yet are happy to see the possibilities and help things move forward.
  • Alarmists. For these individuals an impending change triggers intense feelings of urgency. This could lead to premature or risky career behaviors that negatively affect them longer-term. (Such as quitting on a whim, etc.)
  • Dreamers. This group always manages to see the best in the current situation, even when there is overwhelming evidence to move on and accept some kind of change. (I would add there is a mild level of complacency operating here). Because of this perspective, they might miss opportunities to properly plan a place for themselves in the new “order” of things.
  • Observers. Usually quiet and calm, these individuals take a solid “wait and see” approach. They rarely panic — and prefer to watch things unfold organically. They might superficially support the change, but may eventually exit if the change is perceived as negative.
  • Aggressors or Terminators. These individuals feel anger when they are faced with an unexpected change. They may become a strong “naysayer”, vehemently opposing a change and could exhibit negative behaviors without reflection.

After I drafted these, I searched for other frameworks that might capture how we process change. I happened upon the Kubler-Ross Change Curve which applies the seminal model of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross concerning grief, to change efforts within organizations. (This theory states that we all move through specified phases when dealing with change, rather than identifying a leading emotion that we deal with over time.) I thought it wise to mention it here.

Where do you fall? Have I missed your leading orientation toward change? Share your style in comments.

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