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  • Writer's pictureRob Douglas

Change Is Coming

“If there is one constant in this world it is change” – Greek philosopher Heraclitus

 

Change happens.   Sorry, I know that is not comforting.  It’s the opposite.  Comfort is a sense of stability, a homeostasis, that keeps us safe from the next moment.  While we are comfortable, we can rest, we can relax, we can allow anxiety to fade, and we can feel safe.  But are we really safe?

 

Change is coming, the morning follows night, the sun follows the storm, and we need to move on.  When we stop moving, we start dying.  The Universe is built on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that entropy always increases, and all systems move toward chaos and disorder. And as humans, it is our lot in life to try to impose order on that Universe.

 

So let’s accept that change is coming.  But change can come in many forms, and with many impacts.  Organizations change members, and we find ourselves learning to work with new people who don’t do things the way we know, the way we trust.  Systems break and inhibit our work, and leave us to pick up the pieces, and still meet our obligations. 

 

The key to controlling change is in managing change, not hiding from it or protecting ourselves from it, or trying to hold it back like a broken dike.  A river will cut through any land if enough water comes all at once…but if we can manage it, control it, gate it, it will stay within its banks, and flow safely where we want it.  Make no mistake though – preparing and executing this management is work!  Hard work!  But so is cleaning up after the flood – so we get to pick our poison.  Pick your hard!  Let’s manage the change.

 

There are many great books on change management.  But I don’t think any one of them is the end all of thinking about change.  It’s a continuous learning process to manage change.  Hey, I said it was work.  The first step is deciding that you are going to put the work in.  You can try other options.  No one can make you manage change.  But I would suggest you choose reality, and control.

 

Step 2 comes in many forms, but I’ll call it Systems Thinking – understand your area of responsibility as a system – with inputs that you have some limited control over, and outputs that are required of you.  Inside is the system that transforms the inputs to outputs.  Identify the feedback loops which can positively or negatively affect the performance of the system.  I’ll go into this all much deeper in a post on Systems Thinking, but my point here is that you need to know the extent of your area of control and responsibility in order to prepare for Step 3.

Step 3 – study, predict, and evaluate where changes may come, and how they will affect your system.  This comes in many forms. In formal Project Management, it is called Risk Management.  But it need not be so formal.  When you buy a house, you get an inspection, and that inspection report is a scary, scary document – because it tells you where a lot of change is going to come.  In Agile development, one principle is to design for change, and one tool in doing that is developing a Minimum Viable Product – maximizing the amount of work not done.  This allows you to change requirements, and resources, based on tight feedback loops – a systems thing.  Kepner-Tregoe Problem Management calls it Problem Identification.  Whatever techniques or tricks you use, the point is to not wait for the changes to come, but to systematically and effectively predict them, based on past experience, expert opinion, outside consultation, or whatever means you can deploy and afford.  Your goal is to avoid surprises.

 

Now…breathe…because with all this anticipated change, you have activated your limbic nervous system and produced enough cortisol to spur a donkey to win the Kentucky Derby.  Relax.  A reality check – none these potential problems or changes are new.  They were always there.  And not all of them will really come to pass.  They can’t.  So relax.  Nothing has changed…yet.  But knowledge is power, and it is now in your hands.  You can use this knowledge to evaluate the likelihood of changes coming, and the impacts, and make decisions – intentional decisions (we will also get into Intentionality later…) about how to expend your resources on preparing for change.

 

Congratulations, you have reached Step 5….execute your plan to prepare for, and ultimately embrace changes.  Sure, if everything happens, you will be "crazy busy".  But not everything will happen.  You can triage the most important changes you need to worry about, wait and react when others come, or proactively go out and meet them, and bring those changes about yourself on your terms.  The work you have done up to this point gives you the power to decide, the power to influence the change.  This means that you have the power to make the change be a positive thing for your career, your life, your organization, your family.

 

Some people relish change. They thrive in it.  If that is you, great.  Then please, I implore you – be kind to those who are decidedly not fans of change.  Leading through Change is challenging, but it is incredibly rewarding when you see the other side.  Because as we discussed – Change is scary.  The less you personally are involved in seeing, preparing for, or causing the change, the more you feel it is random and capricious.  We need to fall back on Trust – if you are leading through change, you need to continue to develop and use the Trust you have earned in your team, to help them work through the change.  Help them develop their change management steps.  Be transparent (another topic for another time).  Share what you can see that they can’t.  And be honest when are relying on faith, or hope, or experience as the means to your Trust. Remember Trust is currency – spend some on those you care about to help them with Change Management.  Because Change is coming. 

 

And if you are lost and afraid and anxious because of all this, because you can’t see the value or benefit of other side of Change – reach out to someone you Trust.  Reach out and ask for help seeing the other side.  In her book TBD, Brenda Kline Reynolds, talks about leading through change that looks like leading someone through a dense “transition fog.”  I think this is a very apt metaphor.  If you are prepared, sure, you can’t see either, but you are better able to help, and you yourself are better able to control your anxiety, and be a blessing on those around you.

Change is hard, but change is good.  It’s the only thing we can count on.  So plan on it, prepare for it, design for it, embrace it.  Be a Change Manager. 

 

If you want some help predicting, planning, responding to, or dealing with change in your work life, reach out to someone who can help – a friend, a colleague, a coach, or a community.  I’m here to help you.  You can do this.

 

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