Our star guest blogger, Programme Manager, Kayleigh Price explores the positive nature of real life changes compared with the negativity and challenges attached to work based change.
I’ve been pondering something recently. Why is it that when we propose change in a work environment it’s often greeted with negativity and challenge, yet when we propose change in our home lives the reverse is often true? What is it that makes us react more negatively to work based change and what can we do to encourage a more positive reaction? I have a few examples of personal change that tend to get positive reactions, alongside their less well received work equivalents.
Just bought a house? Sharing this news encourages all around us to query move dates, interior décor and whether they can come to the house warming party. All this interest is despite the fact that moving house is widely agreed as one of the most stressful life events. If you flip this situation to become a work related move (say moving to a new office complex) then suddenly those colleagues who were interested in our house move become increasingly combative every time the office move is mentioned. Why on earth would we want to move? What’s wrong with the current office? Why are we creating extra stress for ourselves? This happens even when we are moving from unsuitable offices to a much more productive environment. Everyone has a reason why it isn’t worth doing, or isn’t going to work. Why does a personal move elicit such excitement but an office move strikes dread in to the hearts of our colleagues?
Gotten engaged? Congratulations will pour in from family, friends and colleagues, swiftly followed by when are you getting married, where, how many guests, what shall we bring and what will you dance to. Your average wedding will be 30-50 people in the day and roughly 100 for the evening. The work equivalent? Ask anyone other than an events manager to arrange 2 concurrent events on the same day for different participants, likely at different venues and they will consider themselves justified in wishing you far away! In fact even a seasoned event manager might balk at this task. Planning a wedding is far more stressful than planning a work event and yet we take to it with much more excitement. Other than the obvious reasons (celebrating your love and having a party with everyone you care about) why is it that we have endless excitement for a wedding and yet often struggle to muster up excitement for planning an event?
The only thing in life that garners more excitement than the announcement of a wedding is the pitter patter of tiny feet. Yet imagine how your work colleagues would react if you said you were taking on a project with a 9 month lead in time fraught with stress and unknowns, followed by a minimum 18 year implementation cycle with differing levels of input, and the requirement to drop everything at a moment’s notice to support the project. Not to mention the ever expanding budget. People will look at you like you have lost it.
Clearly all of the examples above are contextually very different and I am not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate these successes and changes in our lives. But why can’t we see work changes in this manner? I’m not in any way saying that I have an answer to getting people to embrace change, but I do have a theory.
People react to work based change negatively because often it is difficult to imagine the end result. At the start of change, often the goals can be a bit misty, as until we start making changes we cannot 100% guarantee how it will look. This makes people understandably nervous about the change, which in turn can make them resistant. And this for me is the massive difference between change in our personal and work lives.
Even if you can’t picture exactly how someone’s wedding will look, you know that two people who love each other will share this with their guests and then celebrate with friends and family, before heading off for a lifetime together. We know that moving house is stressful, and that we will hate every second of packing, decorating, unpacking and building flat pack furniture (with completely unreadable instructions!) But we know that it will all be worth it when we are in our shiny new home, looking just how we want it and feeling like our sanctuary from the world.
But with work it’s often difficult to imagine the end point, and even if we can, sometimes the end point can be scary, or unpalatable to some. If you feared that making a change may eventually lead to you being out of a job, or working new hours that didn’t suit you, then you might be resistant to change too.
As leaders and improvement coaches we need to consider how those affected by the change might feel, and then show them how the end result might look. Take them on the journey with you.
When deciding on what change to make you will have gone through a thought process to determine what might work best, how you want it to look at the end, what the benefits will be. The change (hopefully) won’t just be something you plucked out of thin air and decided ‘that’ll work’. But how many of us are guilty of presenting the change as a ‘fait accompli’ and giving people no opportunity to shape the changes that will affect them? Of making our colleagues feel like change is being done to them, rather than with and for them?
I believe that if we can work with people to determine the best method for change and agree the best steps to realise the change, if we can paint a communal picture of how it might look in the future and what benefits there are for us all in the change however uncomfortable it might feel in the interim, then we will be on our way to encouraging a positive reaction to change. You never know, you might even get an idea you never would have thought of!