We are entering a new economy, the Innovation Age, where change is accelerating and technology is transforming organizations like never before. The stress of change is increasing for all of us. And how we manage change is becoming more critical than ever.
As a facilitator of strategic planning I have come to the realization that organizations, and most individuals, have a critical blindspot when it comes to managing change effectively.
We all tend to look at a specific change coming to our organization, or personal life, as something that is either good or bad. We examine the specifics and conclude that if it is good, we embrace it, and if it is bad, we avoid it. The problem with this approach is that change is always a double-edged sword.
All change produces both good AND bad results. Always. Inevitably. If we decide an initiative is good and adopt it, then the bad bites us. If we resist the change and try to avoid it, we miss the positive results.
Let’s look at a typical example of how this blindspot impairs our ability to effectively lead change. When management decides to launch new technology into a workplace, say a new software program, the emphasis is always on selling the positive results of the change. “Come on group, embrace it. We will be more productive. Our lives easier. The transition will be seamless.” Yes, we’ve all experienced this approach. Yet we all know that the transition to new technologies isn’t always smooth.
The after-meetings in the hallways are often the only forum for bringing out the true concerns, the negatives of change. “Will we get the training we need to make it work? What if my performance suffers during the transition? If there is a technical problem with the new technology, is there an emergency contact point where I can get help?”
As opposition rises, management faces the dark night of the innovator. That is the time when leaders back away from the change. Many initiatives die at this point. Long-term employees know that if they resist quietly, not fully embrace the new methods, change initiatives graduate to becoming the flavour of the day.
Today, a clear winner rarely emerges in these never-ending debates between yes or no, good or bad. Each side is forever trying to convince the other side that they are right, when inevitably both sides are.
Unfortunately, the media tends to reinforce the view that something we must choose between is either good or bad. That means evaluating a new natural resource project stokes never-ending conflict. It means green lights lead to unforeseen stops. This old approach impairs our ability to capture technical opportunities coming in the Age of Innovation.
So how can we be more effective managing change? First, we must recognize that planning for change is not only a matter of concluding whether it is good or bad and embracing it or not.
Effective change planning means systematically examining the likely good AND bad results of the change. Then deciding what specific actions will help embrace the good, and conversely, which specific actions will help avoid the bad.
The stress of change is lessened with this more balanced approach. The leadership process involves having the people affected by change brainstorm good and bad results. Then these people help make action plans to address each opportunity and concern raised. This process empowers people to be involved more positively in change and enables better decision-making for the good of the organization.
Stress is at its worst when we don’t know what to do about change. This more balanced approach creates action plans that make change more manageable.
Let’s head into the future with eyes wide open, addressing both sides of change to forge a better future for us all.