Change. . .to Embrace or Not to Embrace? That Can’t Be Your Question

Reengineering, TQM, horizontal structures, redesigning, virtual teams–welcome to the wide world of buzzwords and management’s latest, and greatest pet fads. Think back. . .what was your workplace like five years ago? Three? How about last year? Stable. . .Calm. . .Tranquil? Definitely not. No one today’s workplace has been untouched by the amount of significant change woven in every organization, at every level. Most people will say that their workloads and stress levels have increased over the past three years. Attribute it to change.

Change is here to stay. And, the only thing that will change change, is that it will accelerate–its rate will continue to increase. Futurists believe that the amount of change to be encountered in the next ten years will be equivalent to the amount of change experienced during the past seventy-five. Think exponentially, not incrementally. Because of technology and communication capabilities, any changes in the future will come up a faster, even explosive pace. You may feel you’re caught in a shock wave.

Change is a unique, and not so unique, process that will invade the rest of your life. Without it, nothing could exist, and life, as present generations currently know it, would cease to exist. Anyone over 30 knows when reflecting back to early childhood that microwaves and VCR’s did not exist then.

Since 1940, the personal computer, penicillin, the Pill, artificial hearts, organ transplants, radar, television, FM radios, credit cards, frozen foods, ball point pens and pantyhose only scratch the surface of debuted items and procedures. Can you imagine today’s society without any of them? In 1997, the ability to clone was officially announced, guaranteeing a heated debate–to clone, or not to clone.

Change is inevitable. Without it, there is no growth, nil or little improvement and little opportunity. How dreadful, how boring, how scary, and …how thought provoking.

From Non-Shifting to Shift Shaper
I confess, I was one of those employers who dug in her heels when my staff first approached me about getting a word processor in the early eighties. A that time, I lived in the heart of Silicon Valley and had the latest and greatest versions of what IBM made in typewriters–50 pages of memory, back-space correcting, prices for these babies ranged from $900 to $3500. I always felt that my secretary’s state-of-the-art typewriter was good enough–that $3500 model that could remember 50 pages. As I look back, I was in the Stone Age.

The Five Stages of Change
When you are faced with the change process, you experience multiple stages. They include:

  • Resistance–being stubborn and denying the benefits and need of an item, process or concept. Fear is an underlying ingredient when resistance is in play-fear of the unknown, fear of failure, and sometimes, fear of success.
  • Skepticism–willing to try, but still doubting the benefit and use of an item, process or concept, clinging to the past.
  • Adaptation–moving past reluctance and fully accepting that the item, process or concept can be integrated into your personal or professional life.
  • Shifting–opening up to “what if” scenarios; your transition from being stubborn to shift shaper is almost complete.
  • Cohesiveness–the ways of the past are the past; your new attitude becomes, “Why didn’t I do this sooner” or “What took me (or my group, team, facility, organization or company) so long to. . .change?” You are a shift-shaper-you can’t understand why others are not on the bandwagon and why they are still resisting change.

Seeding Shift
When my staff approached me, I was both resistance and great skepticism. I knew there was new equipment out there, but the old way–the typewriter–was good enough. I caved in and reluctantly rented a computer for three months. The staff loved it–I viewed it as a new-fanged device. It soon became obvious to me that speed and efficiency levels were enhanced. So much for being resistance and skeptical.

I then moved into the third stage of change–adaptation. My attitude became, “Well, we’ll keep it, but we won’t get rid of the typewriters”–we had five. After all, we would always need a typewriter if we needed to do something in a hurry, and for backup. Resistance was still in gear–I refused to use the contraptions. That was soon to change.

Over Christmas break, our offices were closed. Approaching “it”, I decided to turn it on. Wah-la–within a few minutes, I managed to delete an entire file–the file that contained a 400-page manuscript! Gone, totally gone. For three days, I had experts try to retrieve the lost material–no success. My emotions ran the gamut–from disbelief, to denial, then anger. I was ticked, mostly at me.

Finally, I threw in the towel and guess what? I really liked using this marvelous new gadget. The computer had the ability to erase, delete, edit, to move phrases, sentences and paragraphs around with a tap of a finger. Unbelievable. My “gadget,” was a writer’s dream.

By the end of the day, I went from adaptation to the fourth stage, shifting. I began to wonder what else could I do with the computer and the word processing programs. What types of overheads for workshops could be produced? What about cartoons to be used during lectures? How about pasting graphs into articles? I was sold. In a nano-second, the fifth stage of cohesiveness hit. Within a month, three Macs found new homes in my office.

Today, I openly and loudly say that I couldn’t imagine not having a computer. There is no way that I could produce what I do if these machines weren’t an integral part of my office team. Those original three have been upgraded, replaced and added to. From one typewriter to five computers. What happened to our state of the art, $3500 IBM Memory Typewriter? A local charity became the new owner.

Resisting Resistance
Some take forever to move beyond resistance. They will do whatever they can to ward off changes when the only reality is change. Not only do they practice the glorious art of self-sabotage, they assist in the sabotage of others on their team, departments, even organization. Fear, and denial, feed their resistance.

The adage, “Try it, you might like it,” isn’t an instant fit. It takes time, practice, training. Rarely an overnight process. As I began to familiarize myself with the “assets” of the computer, I realized that there was a better way at my fingertips. It didn’t happen overnight. Rather, it crept up on me.

It is not uncommon for a huge percentage of the individuals in an organization, even a failing organization, to truly feel that any change is not necessary. The prevailing attitude is “If we just hang on (and do nothing), it will all settle down and everything will be back to normal.” Fat chance. Look at you. How many of your friends and co-workers are thriving (or still exist) that decided to do zip and wait the changing winds out?

In working through to the fourth stage, shifting, you may still feel uneasy or uncomfortable. Sometimes the “good old days” seem simpler. They may be, but today, technology changes almost daily for the home and workplace. You can’t turn back; you can only go forward. It seems as soon as you learn something new, it’s time to learn something else. There is always a fear that you might crash or fail when change is thrown at you. But over time, confidence builds up and you begin to wonder what took you so long.

When you arrive at the final stage of cohesiveness, you find that you’ve accepted the change and you can work with it comfortably, whatever “it” is. There will be times when you’ll think back and won’t be able to remember what it was really like before the change was in place. You feel confident and in control, wondering how you ever managed before the changes were put in place.

Welcome Destruction!
Few enthusiastically jump in and wallow in change. The norm is to avoid it. For most change and shifting gears is scary business. Your fear factors rise. Denial matches fear’s level. It’s easy to become paralyzed. Welcome to changeophobia.

Change is usually messy. It’s destructive. Things get broken along the way–old beliefs, habits, and traditions. Naysayers will issue warnings–take it slow or stop it. You tiptoe around, avoid them or try to be nice. After all, no one really wants someone to be hurt in the change process.

It doesn’t matter, toes will be bruised. If you are unwilling to break a few things along the change path, heavy baggage accumulates. Bad habits stay intact. By being careful and protecting the sacred cows, you sabotage the “could be” generation of events–your future. A caterpillar must shed its cocoon to become a butterfly. You must shed many of the old ways and habits to spread wings and fly.

Becoming A Shift-Shaper
Becoming a shift-shaper is usually brought about by one of two forces: external or internal. The first is external. Change is forced on you, by others from work, family or relationships. You are given no choice, so you make the change. You create the internal force of change. You will change on your own if you experience sufficient discontent–you feel the need for or see a better way. You decide that your style, methods, education or output need fine-tuning. A shift-shaper you become. In either case, courage and confidence are needed.

I often ask participants in workshops to list the areas of change that they have experienced or observed. Some create an incredible list, others appear or act brain dead. What change? is their attitude. If “What change?” is your mantra, guaranteed, your tenure will indeed be short. You might as well write a will or your termination notice. Change is not invisibleit’s everywhere.

To survive and grow through a changing environment–whether it’s personal or professional–takes a commitment from you. For most people, the old saying, “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready…,” is never completed with the final phase “four to go.” Most become stuck on getting ready; no one gets stuck on going. Change doesn’t wait until you are ready to deal with it. It just happens, it moves along quickly. The sooner you acknowledge it and get on board, the sooner you become a player.

There is no question that many types of jobs have been and will be eliminated as you read this. Windows close, but new doors open. Thousands, yes even millions, of new products, jobs and/or companies are created because of the change you are in or will be going through.

Embracing change and being a shift-shaper enables you to take advantage of any opportunity that may catch your eye–opportunities that you had not previously envisioned or contemplated. In healthcare, there is a vast sea out there. Beyond, and within each sea, are shorelines and islands. And, better yet, new oceans for further discoveries.

To embrace . . .or not to embrace change? –there is only one response. Are you ready?

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