When was the last time you experienced a change in your professional life, at a personal level such as a change in company, team or position? Or maybe it was at an organizational level such as restructuring, rebranding, new processes in place of the old?
We don’t need to look far for evidence that change is happening. From academia, the press, or testimonies from clients who come to the EDHEC Leadership and Managerial Competencies Chair for Leadership development. It’s like rapid fire nowadays and from a psychological perspective, or performance perspective if you like, navigating change can be tough, for new and experienced managers alike.
Given the words of Gautama Buddha “Remember that the only constant in life is change” and our own experiences of the reliability and inevitability of change, we can be proactive and add a few tools in our belt to better navigate the changes that are less easy.
Because here is the thing about change. It can be tricky. It doesn’t mind compounding itself (when it rains it pours). Rarely does one change wait kindly on the sidelines while we finish dealing with another change first. It doesn’t wait until we have regained our footing to kindly ask if we are ready to deal with the next one. Change rarely considers our readiness, our energy reserve, or other issues we are already facing etc.
This isn’t to say that change can’t be easy. Take a brief moment to celebrate a change you navigated well… You have it in mind? Good. There are times when change goes relatively smoothly – for example, when you choose to implement a new procedure for your department to replace one that just wasn’t working. There may be hiccups as the new software is implemented, while you and your team are getting hang of the new process but due to the general enthusiasm of getting a new way of doing things and the buy-in from all members, the change will happen more quickly than if nobody wanted the change or didn’t believe that it would solve any problems.
But this article focuses on changes that don’t go so well. Think of a time when you were faced with a change that you did not expect, did not want, did not believe in (possibly all three) or brought some unforeseen surprises. This is where we can fall into turbulent waters, making the transition painful, slow, and uncomfortable.
Let’s take a look at the William Bridge’s Model of Transition – a model that makes sense of our personal journey when faced with a change. To be clear in the terminology, according to Bridges: A change is an external event. It happens out in the world. How change affects us is the Transition. A transition is the psychological ‘getting used to’ this change that each individual must go through.
Here’s an example from a Regional Manager who moved up to National Manager within a French B2B company. Bill saw this promotion as recognition for his hard work, high sales results for his region and excellent relationships with his teams. The new position would allow for an increase in responsibility, relocation to the sunny south of France for his family along with a more lucrative salary and bonuses. So far so good. This change was a source of pride, excitement and possibility.
But after a few months in the new position, Bill felt stuck and frustrated. Bill counted on (and received) all the good things that would come from the new position and level of responsibility – he got used to these with minimal effort. What he didn’t foresee was what he would lose when moving into this new position. One of the best parts of his previous post had been working on the ground, side by side with the teams in his region. His relationships and his presence had been very strong, creating a high functioning family feel. As a now National Manager, Bill felt powerless when hearing his old team was struggling under their new regional manager. And in addition, they still kept turning to him for support and guidance. The team was not letting go and neither was Bill. After all, they had had a great thing going and losing it was just not comfortable. But it also meant that Bill wasn’t fully present in his new position and his old team were not fully connecting with their new manager.
Part of self-Leadership is being able to step back and identifying when and where you are stuck. If you find yourself asking questions such as ‘why am I resisting this? Why am I having negative thoughts around this change, process, new person? What am I afraid of losing?, why do I no longer love what I used to find satisfying? – Then it’s the perfect time to try out the following steps.
Here are five steps to letting go of the old, allowing you to move forward:
- Identify what you are losing and gaining. Things like status, relationships, routine, expertise, ways of working… Also, acknowledge that feeling that you are losing something is often subjective. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or seemingly insignificant to others. Loss is loss. And when we acknowledge and feel the emotions around it, only then can we move on. Bill had great gains with his promotion but he also really felt the loss of his close work relationships that he hadn’t anticipated.
- Identify the emotions you are experiencing. Feelings such as sadness, guilt, anger, resentment, fear, excitement, are all normal feelings when faced with losing something whether that ‘something’ is expected or unexpected, large or small, desired or undesired.
- Identify exactly what is changing and what is not changing – Breaking it down into elements can make a big change more manageable. During a Merger for example, the products may stay the same (I get to keep my expertise) while teams may gain new members (New relationships during a time when anxieties and fears may be high especially if there are layoffs). Now we can focus on dealing with the relationship aspect without compounding it with fear of losing our feeling of competence.
- Information is key. Asking for as much information or doing your own research can help you quickly check off a few concerns on your list and let you focus on the more important and impactful ones.
- Let go, Get closure, say goodbye. Once you identify what you are losing, take a moment to honour that loss. Reflect what it brought to you and why you will miss it. Then take a moment to celebrate what you had. Ceremonies – whether informal or formal – are great ways to honour and let go. It can also help to identify the things that were not working well (an honest and balanced appraisal of the past).
- Finally, give the new (job, boss, process, brand, level or responsibility, relationship) a fresh view. Just like with seeing the old with an honest and balanced perspective, it is equally important to find something (anything) positive in the new thing. Nurture the positive and see where it can go.
These steps can help you get unstuck, let go of the old and move forward. When managing many changes or even just one big one, we need to be patient and kind to ourselves. Just think, if change is constant… it also means we have all successfully navigated many changes in life already. Managing ourselves in transition is a skill in itself and we can get better at it. One this is certain – we will have plenty of opportunities to practice.