Change is inevitable, yet we humans seem hardwired to resist it. I did for years. Many years into my career, however, I learned 3 things about change. Here they are.
Successful people embrace change.
One of my biggest work opportunities came as a result of embracing change. I was a manager of a technical staff who needed to be ready at any time of the day or night to fix computer glitches and other bumps in the night for our clients. Our legacy, from the wonderfully naive days of the 1970’s and 1980’s was that all technical staff needed and had security access to make changes needed to keep the computer systems rolling at all times.
Following the data breaches and multiple layers of concerns over security in the 90’s and 2000’s, the executives started sweating bullets over all of those people having relatively unrestricted access to the files and databases and software running for the clients. Mind you, we did have policies and procedures governing what we did and could easily be fired for misuse (or allowing misuse) of that access, but most were after the fact.
Because many of the senior technical staff had this access, they were alarmed when executive management started talking about removing it. At first, I agreed with the technical staff. How could we get our jobs done in the middle of the night if we were restricted? But soon, I embraced the change, calling together my entire staff (around 20) along with my peer managers and executive boss to announce changes and invite staff comments and questions.
Because of that act of embracing change, I was offered a division wide project to help bring the rest of the staff on board with security restrictions. After successfully completing that project, I was given a prime assignment as project manager over a 100,000 staff hour project.
Whiners who can’t get on board with changes that will inevitably happen, end up in dead end positions and are viewed as impeding progress. Folks who look for change, help fine tune it and facilitate the best of it are awarded visibility and opportunity.
Sometimes I can influence the way things change.
While working for an airline as a software project leader and programmer, I elected to move around in the company, trying out different departments to get to know more people and to learn more about the division. At one point, however, the company was thinking of outsourcing the data processing and initiated a layoff. Each department manager had to pick the folks to layoff (a certain percentage of their staff). The department in which I worked at the time was primarily involved in one area – and I was working in an ancillary project. The manager chose me as a layoff candidate! However, a prior manager stepped in to offer me a position back in his department. It was a job saving offer and of course I was grateful and took it. I couldn’t influence the choice made or where I ended up in this situation.
Change is uncomfortable.
We humans like routines. We get used to driving the same route to work each day, for instance, and become agitated if we have to find a new direction. Routines help us get things done without too much thought or effort. Change upsets our routines.
We might feel as if we are losing control (as when I was moved to a different department above).
We might feel surprised – having no time to adjust to something that affects us.
We might be afraid of the uncertainty involved – what will happen to me and my work in this new environment? Perhaps we initiated the old ways, now that they are changing, it may seem like a negative statement on our own vision.
We have to figure out and think about how to act under the change (we can no longer cruise through our day on our autopilot routine). Change usually involves more work – to move from the old to the new, to convince everyone to change to the new, to work out issues with the change and etc.
We might worry about whether we can handle the change – can I execute the new procedure, can I get this customer change done in time, and etc.
Working through changes is not easy. Embracing change can’t always be done and is usually done in stages when it can be done. Effective leaders try hard to help people through changes. Leaders who resist the change find that they lose face and sometimes the opportunity to be a leader.
What have you learned about change?