Coaching & Development Solutions

Five Ways To Succeed When You’re Forced To Change



Change management has been an important business topic for decades, and there is a rich world of books, theories and courses on this subject. However, most of these are aimed at the leader who is the architect of the change, and there are many times when we have to manage a change we didn't design. In the UK this idea is topical because in a referendum on EU membership 52% of voters elected to leave, and some of the remaining 48% have struggled to accept the decision. Thousands of people marched through London to protest, and some families and friends have been split along voting lines. I'm not going to comment on the politics of this particular situation, but will offer five ways to succeed when you're forced to change.

Move through Your Transition

William Bridges defined a change as situational (e.g. an organisational reshuffle, a shift in responsibilities) and a transition as the psychological effect of people going through the change. Although change can happen very quickly, transitions are often much slower, and he described three stages people go through (image below from Bridges' Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change):

In Bridges' Transition Model the first stage of Letting Go is emotional and people can display denial, anger and fear in a similar manner to behaviours described in the Kübler-Ross model of grief. You need to give yourself time to express what you are going through otherwise it's hard to truly move into the Neutral Zone where things are still uncertain and uncomfortable, but with guidance on what the change will mean then you can start to re-adjust. This is when you can ask questions and research to get a better idea of exactly how the change affects you. If you learn what you need to know then you can enter the openness and energy of The New Beginning where you commit to the changed world and can link personal goals to system objectives.

Embrace Your Core

People have a natural bias towards the status quo, and one theory behind this links it to our strong loss aversion: experiments have suggested we hate losing an item almost double as much as we would pay for it (the endowment effect). Our resistance to personal change could be due to the idea that we are losing part of ourselves so if you remember what is your core, and will remain in the future, you'll be more successful in the changed world. In a personal 2005 Stanford commencement address Steve Jobs described that being fired by Apple in 1985 was “devastating”, and that he was a “very public failure” (story starts at 5:35 minutes in video below).

However his love of technology remained and he bought Pixar and turned it into a $7.4 billion company and the winner of sixteen Academy Awards. He started the software company NeXt which was eventually bought by Apple and allowed him to return to the company he started in a garage and lead it to even greater success.

Decide Your Future

A study by the London Business School showed that even if we lack power then having a choice makes us feel better about our situation. Power over others and personal choice are both paths to control, and if we have one then the other is less important. So if you lack the power to resist a change then you'll feel better if you make the personal decision about how to respond to the change. I had the privilege to hear Clare Griffiths talk about how she became a four-time para-olympic athlete for Great Britain. As a child she was a keen horse rider and played hockey at county level, but at 18 while riding her horse she broke her back and was told she would never walk again. It could have been natural for this news to depress her, but she threw herself into the rehabilitation program and wanted to complete it faster than anyone else. As soon as she tried wheelchair basketball she decided that this was the perfect sport for her, even though she didn't understand the rules then, and she trained hard to learn how to play it. Her determination led her to play for Great Britain only a year after starting to play wheelchair basketball, and she went on to captain her country.

Join the Outgroup

When there is a change we sometimes look on others as being lucky beneficiaries while we believe that we are being unfairly treated. This relates to social identity theory and the idea of ingroups (people like us) and outgroups (people not like us). We identify ourselves with ingroup members, and tend to show them a positive bias and feel comfortable being around them.

However, we can enter conflict with outgroup members particularly in competition for resources. When an undesired change is going to happen then if we stay hostile to the group which triggered or benefits from the change then this could make us hostile to the change due to its association with the outgroup. Instead find the aspects which you have in common with the outgroup, and carry out activities which involve them.

A client I once coached, whom I'll call Sue, had a very difficult relationship with her manager who wanted to change how the group worked. I led Sue through different exercises to help her see the world through her manager's eyes and feel his motivations. It helped Sue understand why her manager wanted the group to change, and the dangers if it didn't. Sue actually shared many of the same basic drivers as her manager. She still did not agree with everything he did, but the working relationship improved hugely.

Re-build Old Routines

When you are forced to change then re-creating old habits in the new environment can create a sense of continuity, and reassure you that you can adapt successfully to this change.

In his youth Nelson Mandela had been a keen boxer and would often wake early to run or walk long distances. When he was imprisoned in a cell measuring six-feet by six-feet in Robben Island he continued to exercise and in Long Walk to Freedom he wrote that:

On Mondays to Thursdays I would run on the spot in my cell in the morning for up to forty-five minutes. I would also perform a hundred fingertip push-ups, two hundred sit-ups, fifty deep knee-bends and various other callisthenics.

This gave him an outlet to his frustrations during twenty seven years of incarceration, and inspired other prisoners to join him in these exercises.

About The Author

Alasdair Graham is the founder of Apex Discovery and a coach who helps leaders and businesses grow. If you found this blog post useful then please share it.

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