Lead others in change

May 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

Dealing with change, especially change that you did not choose, is a real emotional challenge.

Dealing with change, especially change that you did not choose, is a real emotional challenge. In "Learn to Ride the Waves of Change," (see Pharmaceutical Representative, March 1999) you learned coping strategies for dealing with unwelcome and disruptive personal transitions. You also explored the three psychological stages of transition: making endings, going through "the wilderness" of transition and making new beginnings. In addition to applying these concepts in your own life, you can build on them to help others through transition.

"Professional influencers" like you often have the unenviable task of leading other people to accept necessary, yet unwelcome, changes. What kinds of "bad news" do you have to deliver? How can you gain the cooperation and buy-in of someone who is resisting change?

Assess the state of transition

In order to be effective, you need to understand the stage of transition the person is currently experiencing. Take stock of where he or she is on the issue in question. What are you observing at this point?

Endings. Does she or he seem to be resisting letting go of "what was?" Do you see anger when he or she discusses the change? Does the person talk about reasons "it will never work?" If so, you are probably dealing with a person who is in the stage of endings.

The wilderness. Are you hearing tentative statements about accepting the change, accompanied by a great deal of confusion about how things will work? Does the person seem to be feeling and/or expressing fears about the unknown? Does she or he talk about the discomfort of using a new method or being in a new situation? Then, more than likely, this person is in the wilderness.

New beginnings. Does the person appear to be gaining comfort with the change? Has he or she developed new competencies? Is the person beginning to mention good results that have been observed? If so, this individual is probably working on the stage of new beginnings.

Gaining insight into the person's stage of transition provides information about what that person currently needs. Knowing this, you can choose the behaviors that are most likely to meet her or his current emotional needs and produce the best results.

Helping others make endings

Before beginning a change, think through the question, "Who stands to lose what?" Anticipate how the change will affect the individual. What will the person perceive that he will lose in the process of making the change? Show the person how those needs will be met in the new situation.

Help people understand what is ending and what is not. Often people "catastrophize," assuming that all will be lost when the change occurs. Point out those things that will remain the same, such as principles that will remain constant or methods that will carry over.

Use rituals and symbolic actions to show breaks from the past. Symbolic breaks from "the old way" can be very therapeutic. Create a "happening," an event that marks the move to the new way.

Give lots of relevant information using multiple channels. People have their own preferred ways of receiving information. In the confusion of change, many details are lost in the cracks. Provide the necessary information in "bites." Write it, tell it and let them do it with feedback from you.

When selling the problem, don't put down the past. While it is helpful to understand why the change is necessary, don't oversell the problem. After all, the person has invested in the past way of doing things. To say that the old way was all wrong is to say, "The investment of your time and energy in the past was wasted." Show the person how the past ways created progress, and how the current changes will build on that progress.

Helping them cross the wilderness

Communicate with them about both task and relationship issues. When people are in the confusion of the wilderness, they need to know what to do and how to do it. They also need to feel emotionally supported in the process.

Communicate even when there is no news. At times in certain change processes, there are periods in which things seem to be standing still. Important new information is not immediately forthcoming, and the uncertainty can create an emotional setback for the individual who has a stake in what happens. Stay in close contact with the person during such periods, giving updates that there are no new updates! Your availability will help to offset the discomfort of waiting.

Model and encourage experimentation. The wilderness can be the time of greatest creativity because familiar patterns have been shaken, and no new ones have been established. Experimentation with new ideas and methods come more easily when a person is not mechanically functioning by habit.

Actively solicit ideas. The overwhelming feelings of powerlessness stimulated by imposed change are best countered by becoming actively involved in planning, implementing and refining the changes. Having input relieves fear and helps the person feel ownership and buy-in. Invite him or her to participate regularly in brainstorming and other problem-solving methods to generate new solutions and improvement ideas.

Embracing new beginnings

Implement and fine-tune the plans and methods through input. Being in the stage of new beginnings does not mean that you are finished with the change. There is still much work to be done. Though the person is accepting the change and seeing results, he or she will still experience difficulties in the realities of implementation. Continue to use the person's suggestions to refine the process.

Find ways to compliment and reinforce the new skills, attitudes and behaviors. A basic principle of human behavior is that behavior that is rewarded is repeated. When someone makes the effort to think differently and do differently, it helps to know that someone notices and appreciates those efforts.

Achieve some early, quick successes, then publicize and celebrate them. Create action opportunities well within the person's ability to succeed, then celebrate that success. Use the success to encourage all who are trying to move forward on the change.

Communicate for effective change

Throughout this entire process, probably the single most important element is communication. Being "in the loop" diminishes the fear of the unknown and speeds up acceptance and adjustment. Transition author William Bridges describes what he calls "the four P's and the two C's" of transition communication. These six elements - purpose, picture, plan, part, connection and concern - provide a communication road map for change efforts. As we lead others through transitions, these elements merit our close attention.

Purpose. People want to know why change is necessary. Further, they need to know that change will bring some benefit that they see as important. From the very beginning, identify the purpose of a change and keep it in focus.

Picture. Communicate how the change will look once its finalized. Having this concept in mind helps guide the way on the confusing roads of the journey.

Plan. The question here is, "How are we going to get there?" People want to know the steps that will be taken and approximate time frames. They want to be a part of formulating the plan for the area of the change for which they are responsible.

Part. We all want to know, "How does this affect me directly? What new skills will I be required to learn?" In other words, "What is my part in this change?"

Connection. In the midst of the confusion of transition, people look for constants. They want to know, for example, that they are still a part of something. Look for opportunities to build and strengthen relationships for support and mutual learning.

Concern. Transitions can be emotionally painful, and, as a leader, you cannot always prevent that pain. However, you do have the potential to make it even worse by ignoring feelings. Show empathy and concern for the person's struggle. It really does help them to know that someone notices and cares. PR

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