Someone (I suspect an observant mother) once said that the only being that truly likes change is a baby with a wet diaper. That may be true but change is also inevitable so learning to anticipate, and cope, may be one of the hallmarks of a successful group.
While we never know for certain what change will look like, or when it will present itself, we can help our groups prepare for change by acknowledging how change feels to individuals. Learning to adopt skills and behaviors that offset the negative consequences of change is a hallmark of healthy organizations.
Ken Blanchard, well known management consultant, has described seven dynamics of change designed to help managers better address employee reactions to change. The seven dynamics of change in bold below are adapted from an article by Ken Blanchard, published in The Inside Guide, Oct., 1992. Although Blanchard crafted these seven dynamics for a corporate environment, these same dynamics appear in nonprofit and informal organizations as well.
When confronted with change:
People will feel awkward, ill-at-ease, and self-conscious.
Change forces us into the unknown which brings up feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and fear of failure. One of the ways that we can guard against this is by taking time to affirm the contributions and value of the organization’s members. Periodically, take the time to name the contributions and strengths of organization. Take time to acknowledge accomplishments and celebrate milestones. Then, when change occurs members will have a strong foundation of positive affirmations to help balance the dis-ease of change.
People initially focus on what they have to give up.
A capable leader knows that when presenting an impending change it is a good idea to lead with some of the advantages and opportunities presented by the change. This does not mean that we can avoid the negative impacts—just that the focus should be balanced.
People will feel alone even if everyone else is going through the same change.
The Board or the leaders of the organization can mitigate this by creating opportunities for people to share what they are feeling with others. It is also useful to repeat that no one is alone in this, that the group members will have the support of one another.
People can handle only so much.
Whenever possible avoid heaping on more change during an already turbulent time. The effects of change accumulate and create stress and tension. In the face of a significant change (change in staffing, funding cuts, mission shift, etc.) it is generally a good idea to provide the organization some calming space where members, staff and leaders can all adjust to the ‘new normal’.
People are at different levels of readiness for change.
Some individuals are naturally more accepting of change than others. And, some individuals may be experiencing changes in other aspects of their life. The cumulative stress of all the changes may cause them to react in unexpected ways. The key to leading an organization through change is to give people outlets for expressing their feelings, providing opportunities for dialog, and continuing to acknowledge that the range of emotions to be expected.
People will be concerned that they don’t have enough resources.
This is another opportunity for the leaders to assure the group that the necessary resources will be available. One of the benefits of change might be that new resource opportunities open up. Try to keep the messages positive, honest, and clear.
If the pressure to change is removed, people will revert back to their old behavior.
In the middle of a chaotic period there often comes a time when it seems like giving up is the best solution. Rarely is this a good idea. Not only will people revert back to the old familiar behavior but that behavior will become even more entrenched and the effort required to change it will increase dramatically.