"...in this world
nothing is certain but death and taxes."
If Franklin were
alive today he would revise this quotable to say, "...in this world
nothing is certain but death, taxes and change." Daryl Conner suggests
in his book, Managing at the Speed of Change, that change is occurring
at exponential rates, yet the solutions have a shorter and shorter shelf
life. There is an increased rate, volume and complexity of change. Practically
speaking this means that the amount of change which occurred over fifty
years during our grandparents' era is now occurring about every five
years. And these changes are taking place in every area of our lives
from professional to personal to social.
are positive and negative changes. Sometimes a negative one turns out
positive and vice versa. Often a seemingly negative one can become positive
by simply "changing" our perception!
Any change, whether
viewed positively or negatively, results in a certain degree of loss,
an element of the unknown. Not surprisingly, it is often the fear of
the unknown and the attendant losses that create the most anxiety regarding
For example, at
first blush a promotion is typically seen as a positive change. However,
an upgraded title and income may come with increased responsibilities,
loss of or change in colleague relationships, a move to another part
of the building or even country. Often there are new individuals and
groups with which to interact and new skills to be learned. One change,
then, frequently begets many more.
How change is perceived
and managed often feels as if one is walking on quicksand, a "…soft,
shifting mass that yields easily to pressure and tends to suck down
any object resting on its surface" (American Heritage Dictionary). Walking
on the quicksand of change means finding ways not to be dragged down,
bogged down or sucked into negativism or reactionary behaviors. For
every change the first question is: Can I live with this change?
- If "No," go
to Plan A and decide how to get out of the situation.
- If "Yes," go
to Plan B and decide how to best manage the change.
There are several
levels of managing change within the workplace. Managers or executives
will be expected to lead others through the change process, i.e.,
help others manage the change. Everyone, however, must take charge
of their own reaction to change, i.e., self-manage. It is the latter
level that this article will address.
are like Dirty Harry-a good change, any change, makes their day! They
thrive on and strive for change. Others are a bit hesitant but generally
take it in stride and look on the bright side. Another group is hesitant
and looks on the negative side while a final group tends to be both
negative and reactionary. Regardless of the group into which you fit,
you can walk on the quicksand of change with the following four-step
To deal effectively
with change one must increase skills, develop ability. This includes
learning about change as a process, understanding the phases, causes
and various reactions to change. It also requires understanding that
change management is largely working through the grief process. With
change comes concomitant losses. These losses must be grieved in order
to embrace the positive aspects of change.
Workers are typically
shocked when they first hear of a merger, buyout, shutdown or layoff.
This initial period of "being told" or "finding out" often brings
responses such as, "It can't be true...No!...This isn't happening."
This shock phase creates a numbness, allowing one to absorb the news.
During this disbelief stage one is likely to function mechanically
and in a daze.
The working phase
means you are dealing with the loss and change in everyday ways and
your feelings about the change begin to surface. The real impact begins
to set in and feelings like anger, sadness, depression and even wonder
occurs when you incorporate the changes and losses into your life.
You accept and acknowledge what has occurred and are ready to "get
on the bandwagon," to accommodate the change and even make it into
As you move through
the working phase and into the resolution phase, developing your ability
may also include learning new skills such as cross-training, attending
seminars, workshops or returning to school. In addition, it may include
getting help and support from family, friends, neighbors, colleagues,
counselors, support groups or spiritual guidance. A visit to your
EAP office may make a world of difference.
In the real estate
world the three most important things are said to be location, location,
location. In walking on the quicksand of change they are attitude,
attitude, attitude! Take charge of your attitude and you'll take charge
Studies on change,
stress and coping show that individuals who believe they can control
the outcomes of their experiences, who have an internal locus of control,
cope better than those who feel outcomes are controlled from outside
forces (external locus of control). They choose to be victors not
victims. They do not make excuses, but rather assume responsibility
for their actions, both positive and negative. If they can't change
the change, they change their reaction to it. They are masters at
living the Serenity Prayer.
To walk on the
quicksand of change requires a second step, changing from thinking
about the negatives and the uncontrollable to focusing on the positives
and that which can be controlled. Change how you think and you can
change how you feel (and therefore respond). A negative attitude is
a lot like a flat tire, you've got to change it to get anywhere!
Get out four
sheets of paper. Write at the top of each: "Positives." On one page
write all the positives you can about your job; on another, all the
positives about your life in general; on a third, things you like
about yourself and on the fourth, positive things about the changes
with which you are dealing. Every time you start thinking negatively,
simply refocus on one of these positives. Be sure to add to these
positive lists as often as possible and say, "thank you" every day
for the good that is in your life.
At the end of
every day, make a list of the things you are worried about, that didn't
get finished, that upset you, then put them in your desk drawer. Lock
the drawer and tell the worries to "Stay!" Believe me, they'll be
there in the morning, why take them home at night?
Step number three,
taking action, is as important as the first two. Having a positive
attitude and developing abilities only go so far. Putting them into
action counts. Participate in or initiate committees, get involved
in the change. Help make it happen. Communicate regularly with colleagues,
in control of the change process and seeing yourself as a winner are
both helpful actions. Whatever you think is most likely to happen
is most likely to happen-make it positive! From Olympians to cancer
survivors, visualization is used to win gold medals and to beat cancer.
another action to help walk on the quicksand of change. These are
the hopes, goals, wishes you have with regard to the change. Write
them, say them, record them on audio tapes. Use them every day. Put
them on your calendar or post-it notes. Use the first person, active
voice-"I am..." instead of "I will" to connote that you are in charge
now, not just that you hope to be. This positive self-talk has been
found to improve performance for dart-throwers. If it helps them,
think what it might do for dealing with change!
A final step for
walking on the quicksand of change involves making allowances for
yourself and others who are experiencing change. Adjusting your attitude,
developing abilities and taking action all take time. Allow yourself
and others the needed time. Set realistic expectations. Be kind to
yourself. Be patient.
congratulating yourself and others as you move through the process.
Celebrate the milestones. Awards and rewards are never more important
than during the throes of change.
Allow for flexibility-so,
you had hoped to have the computer system up and running with all
users trained within three months. If it takes six months to do it
correctly, allow for the detour. Also allow for mistakes and learn
from them. Mistakes are not failures unless you fail to learn from
to help. When someone offers to help, say "Yes, thank you." If no
one is offering, don't be shy about asking. Supporting each other
improves teamwork and facilitates the change.
Allow for a "Pity
Party." Sometimes we need to collectively complain about the change.
It is hard to be upbeat all the time. Allowing the expression of grief
may help you and other employees let go and move on. A "Pity Party"
or "From the Pits to the Peak Party" may be just the ticket. Bring
in junk food, have a dress down day or better yet, black, blue or
brown dress day, Then have a party where grousing is allowed.
Decorate the tables
with toilet paper. Ask everyone to write their irritations on the
TP, then collectively FLUSH IT DOWN THE TOILET!! This symbolic gesture
goes a long way. Be sure to set limits on how long the party lasts
so that negativism doesn't creep back.
The use of TP
brings up another very important allowance and that is the use of
humor. Don't just allow for it, but encourage the use of positive
humor in dealing with change. A laugh improves everything from health
to productivity and profits.
Change is constant.
We must learn to deal with it positively or we will sink in its shifting
sands. We don't have to be super human, but we do have to increase
our ability, improve our attitude, take action and make allowances-just
four steps to walk on the quicksand of change.
© 2000. This material
is copyrighted. Reproduction or transmittal in any form without the
written permission of the author, Sandra Jones Campbell, Ph.D. is