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1. Deny change. The most common initial reaction to change is to deny that it exists. Consider the manager who refuses to cut costs (including redeploying or laying off excess workers) to ensure that the products manufactured by his or her company are priced competitively with the flood of similar products from China. Although the writing is on the wall—in big, bold letters—this manager refuses to see it, putting the company at risk as consumers turn to the imported products, which provide much the same level of quality for significantly less money. The manager should move on to the next phase of dealing with change before he or she does irreparable harm.
2. Resist change. Eventually, after denying that change has arrived, in the next phase of dealing with change, people decide to acknowledge its presence but to resist it nonetheless (perhaps hoping that if it is resisted long enough or vigorously enough, it will simply go away, although it never does). If you hear yourself saying things like, “Let’s wait a while longer to see what happens before we make a move,” or “If it isn’t broken, why fix it?” then you can be certain that you’re resisting the changes that have arrived on your doorstep.
3. Explore change. After resisting change—unsuccessfully—most people begin to realize that they aren’t going to be able to stop it, so they slowly begin to explore it instead. This is where managers decide to conduct a study on the suggested change, have a meeting about it, or initiate a pilot program to get a feel for the impact of particular changes—on a temporary, nonbinding basis. There’s still
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no commitment to accepting the change, but people are definitely warming up to it.
4. Accept change. The final phase of change is acceptance. Instead of ignoring or fighting the change that has arrived, the change has been fully accepted and integrated into an organization’s thinking, processes, and perhaps even its values. Managers and employees alike have embraced the change and are now on the lookout for the next changes in the organization’s environment.
The next time a significant change approaches your business environment, try to become aware of what phase you and your associates and colleagues are in. Are you denying the change? Resisting it? Or exploring and accepting it? Understanding where you are in the four phases of dealing with change can help you get to the final phase more quickly.
DEALING WITH CHANGE AT THE MICRO LEVEL
Is it just us, or does work seem to be busier and more urgent than ever before? It’s not like there have never been crises or rush jobs or deadlines in the past—there have been—it’s just that the amount of quiet time that allows us to recharge our batteries for the next onslaught of craziness seems to be on a dramatically downward swing.
While as a manager, your job is to keep an eye out for long-term changes looming on the horizon, it’s the short-term, day-to-day changes that threaten to take the heaviest toll on your overall health and wellbeing—both physical and mental. Plans change at a moment’s notice, meetings get rescheduled, new product rollouts are accelerated—or slowed down—budgets get slashed, and employees quit and are gone. If there’s one thing you can count on in business today, it’s that tomorrow everything will be different.
The simple fact is that change happens, and you can’t do anything about it. As mentioned in the previous section, you can try to deny it, ignore it, hide it, and pretend it doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t change
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the fact that change has arrived. It simply delays the responses that are necessary to deal with it and eventually allow it to become a part of your organization’s status quo. Despite this, most managers seem to spend their entire careers trying to fight change. We can only ask this simple question: Why? Without change, organizations would not progress, they would not have an opportunity to serve new customers and take advantage of new markets, and employees would not be able to move forward in their careers. Change allows all this and much more.
We asked Bill Taylor, owner of Lark in the Morning, a musical instrument retailer, how he discusses change with his employees. In his mind, discussing change is like swinging back and forth on a trapeze in the darkness:
You have a good grip. You get some confidence and maybe even do a pike or hang by your ankles. It begins to feel really good and really comfortable. Then, off in the darkness, you see another trapeze bar swinging toward you, and you get that old familiar feeling in your stomach. You have to completely let go of this trapeze, fly through the air, and grab the next trapeze. You’ve done this before. You know you can do it again. But it always creates anxiety and uncertainty, maybe even a sense of dread. So you let go, and start flying through the air. And what you have to remember is that the very uncomfortable place in midair is the only place where personal growth occurs. Maybe you don’t get comfortable with being in the air, but at least you recognize the value it adds to your life. When you grab the new trapeze, personal growth is over.