Change is goodbye followed by hello


Change is constant in our life. Is change bad? Is change good? This can be debated and conclusions reached on either side. I would indicate that change is neither good nor bad, it just is. Because change is something we will deal with hundreds of times in our lives, how we react to change is a defining characteristic for each of us. I have been fortunate enough to have many changes in my life to practice my reaction to change. I have had significant losses with jobs, family, and health. Sometimes I am excited and ready for change. I have no negative reaction and can smile and move quickly ahead. Sometimes I am crippled with fear, anger, resentment and I don’t approach change willingly; instead I am dragged kicking, screaming, and crying. All changes require a grief process. Grief is not limited to death! This is a process that humans need to experience and move through.

Grief Process and change

One thing I say about change is there isn’t any way through it except THROUGH it. By this, I mean you need to experience the stages of grief, acknowledge it, become angry (maybe only slightly upset), make a deal, feel a little blue and them accept the change to move forward.

The five stages of grief are:
1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

Organizations make mistakes in underestimating this grief process as it relates to changes in team organization, processes, products, new systems, etc.. As humans, any change we face represents a loss. Any loss requires a grieving process. This process can be very quick and some steps may be skipped, however the grief is still there. Some people are also better able to cope with changes due to backgrounds, life experience, personality, etc. One of the challenges in a grieving process is that is a unique personal process for each person. To complicate things even more, we may not follow a single process for every loss situation. The grief process must be felt, experience, acknowledged by each of us to move forward to acceptance of the change.

My grief with job change

As a consultant, I grieve the loss of my teams each time I change contracts. I invest time in relationships at organizations. Once I am gone I am no longer ‘in that club’. So when I know I am leaving my grieving starts. I may deny that the assignment will come to end, perhaps the client will have something more for me to work on so I can continue with the teams I have enjoyed working with. This is Denial! I may become angry that I have to leave, perhaps funding was lost, or there are no additional projects that need my help or I may even have a new opportunity that I need to embrace. This frustration is Anger. I may think to myself that I need to figure out some way I could continue to be ‘in the club’. Are there projects that I could help out with on an Adhoc basis? These thoughts are bargaining. I start to realize that these ideas will not work and I actually have to leave. I can no longer have lunch with these peers and team members or see them passing in the hallway. This leads to a depression. Sadness set in knowing I will not be there physically once my contract is done. At some point in this journey I accept that the change is happening and look forward to the new opportunity. This is acceptance. I accept than I can continue to be in touch with some of my former team members and find new ways to collaborate and keep connect. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are great resources for me to virtually stay connected with my teams. Knowing I have those outlets moves me through to Acceptance faster.

Organizational change to grieve

Other organizational changes could impact stakeholders in much the same way as me changing clients. Being aware of how people may feel and allowing a period of grieving before, during and after a change is critical to our emotional well being. A good solid foundation of why the change is needed is also critical. Leaders must communicate why a change is being made; is it operational efficiencies or a risk mitigation strategy challenge? The answer of ‘Just because I said so’ will not help to create that solid foundation to help teams move through grief to accept the change.
Some examples of changes employees face include:
• Team restructuring
• Change in project assignments
• New regulatory rules
• Business efficiency/improvements
• Team members moving to other departments
• Physical building location change
• New policies

Each of these changes could represent a loss, a loss of what your world WAS to what your world IS in the future. Having an open door to allow people to talk about their feelings and process the change is one way leaders can help. They can also communicate clearly to prepare employees for what the changes are or better yet, allow them to participate in the new policy or discover inefficiencies that could improve their processes in the future. The buy-in for a change is necessary to get people on board. When change is sprung on us it can create fear. In the absence of information about the change people make up stories about what prompted the change. This is part of the denial of the change and leads to anger. Bargaining has an element of ‘If only’ statements: If only I hadn’t done this or if only I had done that. Faced with the reality that in fact, the change had nothing to do with you or what you had or had not done that can lead to depression. Feelings of sadness, isolation, or loneliness can take hold and we need to feel them to move forward. Allow yourself to feel sad that your world is now different and requires you to accept a new reality.

Change is hard! We grow to love our routines, how things work and how I fit in a situation. Disrupting what we know and love is not as easy to just ‘get over it’. Be sensitive to the grief process and the fact that it is individual. Each person will have a different process and timeframe. We all can accept the goodbye and embrace the hello of something different, when we allow ourselves to grieve.

Heather, A BA Without Borders

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