Acknowledging the Pain: Change in an Organization

Pain from Organizational ChangeChange for many people is stressful, but for others it can be tremendously traumatic. Dr. Thomas Holmes and researchers at the University Of Washington School Of Medicine, who developed the Life Change Index Scale rated the factors that caused stress from the low (11) a minor traffic ticket to a high (100) the death of a spouse. Different types of business change fell midway on the scale between 20 and 46. Because this study is based on averages, a change stress rating of 47 may not impact one person as much as it may another. As business leaders, we understand that change is inevitable. So we must be aware of how change affects our co-workers and steps we can take to make the transition more comfortable for them and in turn for the success of the initiative.

Resistance
Many times people will resist change by denying or ignoring that it is occurring. Sometime ago, a coworker’s wife was expecting another child. This co-worker was so resistant to the change in his family; he refused to even acknowledge that he had any part in the pregnancy. I remember that for weeks the whole team tried to get him out of his denial, anger, and refusal to accept the new baby. Then when the couple found out they were going to have twins, he became so agitated that we were worried he might leave his wife and the children. Of course, by the time the children were born, he had not only accepted the situation, he amazed the office with his compassion for the infants, especially one. The umbilical cord of one of the babies had been blocked; so the child (a little boy) had not developed at the same rate as the other child. This baby was not allowed to leave the hospital for weeks, and our co-worker visited that child every day and lovingly talked to the baby while gently rubbing the child’s back, a complete attitude change to the situation.

Acceptance
While this story may not seem to apply to the change going on in your organization, it does address the extreme to which some people resist change. This man could not see any benefit of this change in his life, nor was he ready to respond to the change. No amount of discussion, encouragement, or teasing would sway his thinking. He understood that he had only two choices, accept the babies or leave.

Acceptance of his feelings was the one thing that helped him most and it is the beginning act that can make a big difference for change in your employees. My friend’s wife never showed any anger or hurt when he expressed frustration at the upcoming lifestyle change. His supervisor set time aside each week for him to talk out his feelings about the situation. Little by little, he began to make comments about the upcoming event and the adjustments he was willing to make.

Because others acknowledged his right to have his feelings, he was able to sort out the real reason for his resistance. As he stated later, most of his apprehension was based on fear, fear of failing as a father, not being able to provide adequately for a larger family, and that the change would alter his wife’s feelings for him.

Application
Employees who are resistant to change may also be basing their opposition on fear. He/she may fear the change will change his/her position, affect job security, or lead to more and even greater changes. You can help your employees through the emotion of change by:
• Demonstrating commitment; clarifying your reasons for the change.
• Inviting questions and responding promptly
• Using active listening skills; show that you hear and understand the concerns of others, but don’t take on or “own” their burdens
• Increasing communication and information sharing
• Reinforcing the value of your team members
• Providing regular updates on the progress and benefits of the change (e-mails, bulletin boards, memo’s, briefings, etc.)
• Working through the “harsh realities” of change
• Being accessible to team members
• Setting aside time for individual coaching

Change is constant and if we learn to manage change, we will learn to embrace the value it brings.

Related Services:

About the Author

Martha Rice