Embracing change

– a story about feeling safe

It is Monday morning and you have just arrived at the office. Ahead of you awaits another wonderful day as editor of exclusive wedding invitations. For the past 15 years you have been writing wedding invitations by hand. It makes the invitations appear more authentic and personal. After many years of rehearsing your hand writing, it is now so beautiful that you are regularly thanked by the customers for your “work of art”.

During lunch you overhear someone from accounting suggest that the company purchases a new computer software which has just hit the market. According to the latest reviews, the software can now be taught to write the invitations as if a human had written it by hand. It can even integrate smaller adjustments in the writing to make the invitations appear as if they were written by a human being.

Previously you haven’t really had a reason to use a computer, but a couple of your friends have said that computers have made a lot of jobs obsolete.

The fear gradually takes over your body and mind as you see your life fall apart:

  • Your job (which you love) is in danger.
  • You can’t figure out how to use the new computer software.
  • You are uncertain if a computer can even deliver a good enough quality.

Tuesday afternoon your manager shows up at your desk and asks you to evaluate the computer software you heard about during lunch yesterday. Your manager tells you that he really appreciates your long experience and exceptional skills. He therefore believes you will be the perfect candidate to evaluate the new software.

Do you feel motivated to embrace change?

Establishing safety

Before you can expect anyone to be ready for change, you need to understand their reality and do everything you can to make them feel safe. In the above case you would probably have been a lot more motivated if you were:

  • promised job security
  • offered professional training in both using a computer and the new software
  • told that even mistakes and failures were valuable, since it would help the company learn.
  • equally free to accept or reject the software, based on your professional opinion.

As managers we can never forget that we are working with people, and that we all bring something different – and have different perspectives on the world that surrounds us. The manager in the case probably thinks that this is an extremely interesting project, and therefore everyone would love being part of it. However, often reality isn’t that simple.

So do I have a recipe on how to ensure safety?
I could probably create a list, and maybe even earn a fortune by convincing everyone looking for an easy answer, that this “10 step plan” will ensure success. However, nothing in my experience can convince me that a simple “to do” list would work. There is no way it can entail all the complexity involved when people go through change.

Instead of trying to manage change as an objectively measurable process, we need to activate our emotional intelligence and use it to actively when collaborating with others.

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