A few days ago I was in Maryland visiting with some good friends. We had a thoughtful discussion about “change”, in which they suggested that most people are forced through circumstances to deal with all kinds of change. Family issues. Career challenges. Business issues. Whatever. The key is — something is happening and we’re forced to face up to it and deal with it. Whether we want to or not.
More concretely, what does this look like? In our business and career life — and maybe more broadly in our personal lives — I think it comes down to 3 triggers of change. We are either:
- Initiating it (“profits are down — we need to downsize”);
- Managing it (“I’ve been tasked to consolidate and reduce our teams”), or;
- Responding personally to it (“Just got my notice. I’ve been canned!”).
Typically, the literature presents “change agents” as those that thrive on driving organizational improvements — you know the sort: Proactive. Catalysts. Educators. Mentors. High EQ kind of stuff. (Some decent articles here, here, and here). While these are all valuable traits, I think it really only covers about 5% to 10% of us. Given the pace of our lives — our businesses, the competitive environment, our careers, new technologies, globalization, family issues, etc. — we are all being forced to be “change agents” of some description; the other 90% to 95% that don’t automatically thrive on change.
So, the first thing we need to understand is where we personally sit on the “change dial” — we are going to be somewhere between a 1 (“completely reluctant to change but forced into it by circumstances”) or cranked over all the way to 10 (“highly addicted to change — change is great!”). The traditional thinking about Change Agents really only applies to the far right of that dial, say from about a “7” onwards.
Here’s my takeaway from all this. The further over to the “addicted to change” setting you personally are, the more comfortable your life will be in our fast moving, volatile 21st century world. If instead, you find yourself way over at the “reluctant to change” setting, you’ll probably going to have a lot of struggles ahead of you. You’re the Reluctant Change Agent we’re talking about here. My belief is that your key survival tactic is going to involve becoming more and more comfortable with change. You may not be built for it, but you can certainly teach yourself to become more open to it, and — over time — less stressed by it.
Easy to say, hard to do. What can you do about it? Let’s start by accepting that putting your head in the sand and ignoring it isn’t going to actually work. “This too shall pass” isn’t much of a strategy and rarely works in practice. So —
- take a deep breath, and accept that change is happening, that you need to accept it as fact, and that you will not hide from it;
- figure out your role in the change — are you initiating it (however reluctantly you might be to pull that trigger), being told to manage it, or having it “done to you”? Depending on your role, your approach to dealing with the specific change may be different, but you still need to develop a plan and deal with it;
- figure out the source of your internal stress with this particular change and put words to it. Generally it’s going to be around confronting something that makes you uncomfortable. Figure out what that is and write it down so you can see it in black and white. This helps a lot;
- talk it out with someone you trust — a coach, a confidante, a mentor. A good listener can help you a lot and the process of “talking it out” gets you to start thinking through alternatives and approaches that you can take to move forward;
- develop a personal plan for how you are going to handle the change itself, and also what coping mechanisms and stress relievers you might want to employ to help you through the uncomfortable process you are going through.
Hey, change is happening, and well that might suck, it’s still happening:
- If you’re the one that needs to initiate it but you’re too afraid to pull the trigger, you KNOW things aren’t going to improve by themselves, and if you are really honest with yourself, you KNOW they are most likely only going to get worse. So quit giving yourself excuses and pull the trigger, already;
- If you’re the one tasked with managing the change, same thing. Ball is in your court. If you can’t hand it back, then pick it up and get on with it;
- And if it’s being done to you, too bad. It might look to be crappy at the outset, or it might actually be for the best. It’s totally up to you in terms of how you choose to accept it, embrace it, and leverage it to move your life forward.
So to the 95% of us who are reluctant change agents — why not “fake it until you make it”? We’re going to get a lot of experience in dealing with change in our lives, careers, and businesses over the coming decades. Might as well learn a thing or two about ourselves in the process.