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Who knew that change and thinking about change could be so complicated? Even if the change is the one we advocate for, embrace, and want, it can cause stress.
You are the agent of change and change happens to you. You are the agent of change when you take a new job, a first job, move up the ranks, or take on new responsibility. Change happens to you when the market for your services crashes and you are made redundant, your organization’s business model morphs, or there is new leadership with new visions and work practices.
Regardless of whether you are the stream (making change happen) or the leaf (carried by the stream), change can be brutal. Bridge’s Transition Model helps us understand what happens in people’s minds during the three stages of change and the corresponding emotions:
- Stage 1: Ending, Losing, and Letting Go. Resistance and emotional upheaval mark this stage. Even when you embrace change, you will experience this stage, if only for a very short time.
- Stage 2: The Neutral Zone. This stage is spaced between the old and new; people hold on to the old way, but are trying to adapt to the new way. People can experience resentment and low productivity.
- Stage 3: The New Beginning. During this stage people embrace change and are excited about it! They experience early wins and productivity gains.
How quickly a person moves through the three stages depends on a number of factors, including problem-solving style. Adaption-Innovation Theory (A-I Theory) and Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation Inventory (“KAI”) address who are the so-called resisters and advocates of change. A-I Theory measures the problem-solving style, which has implications for whether one resists or advocates for any particular change. Under A-I Theory, we all advocate for the kind of change that is consistent with how we prefer to solve problems. We tend to resist change that is inconsistent with our own problem-solving style.
Problem-solving style typically runs the continuum between more adaptive and more innovative. People who are more adaptive prefer to keep the current paradigm in place. The type of change they advocate for are improvements; they want to make the current system better and are risk averse. This is because their preferred problem-solving style is to leverage the system in place, as-is, to solve problems.
People who are more innovative prefer the efficiency and flexibility of devising a solution and then modifying or replacing the system or process to accommodate that solution. They are also less risk averse and more interested in trying something different than their more adaptive colleagues.
The tension in an organization struggling with change boils down to this: the change either goes too far or not far enough. And, no one person is always a resister or always an advocate of change. When it comes to a radical change (and remember, whether the change is radical or not is in the eye of the beholder), the more adaptive are likely to resist and the innovative are more likely to advocate for it. Similarly, when it comes to tweaking or perfecting the current system, the more adaptive are more likely to advocate and the more innovative will resist because the change doesn’t go far enough.
Under Bridges Model, so-called resisters resist because they’re still in Stage 1 and are likely experiencing, fear, denial, anger, sadness, disorientation, frustration, uncertainty, or a sense of loss.
So, if you’re trying to lessen resistance, that is help your colleague move from Stage 1 to 2, be sure to listen for the essence of your colleague’s feelings and needs. Moreover, it’s important for new leadership to communicate a clear picture of how the new organization will look and feel and that they will provide the support necessary to successfully transition and thrive long term. Don’t forget to acknowledge difficulties and to take the time to explain the reasons for change. Authentic communication goes a long way toward moving people from Stage 1 to Stage 2.
In this regard, usingThe Win-Win Conversation, and then Coaching Skills to collaboratively identify a solution that meets those needs will likely engage these so-called resisters, achieve buy-in, and leverage that person’s best thinking not just on meeting his or her needs, but on how to implement change more effectively and with less stress for all.
Change happens and we all make the transition eventually. If we didn’t, how would we progress?