Managing the fear of change

Becky Willard

I have been a facilitator of change for most of my career. For me, being the facilitator of change is easy. I can manage it well, and I have learned how to help others manage it well. But, admittedly, I am not perfect, because I fear change — personally and professionally.

Years ago, in a meeting with my supervisor, I broke down sobbing because of change happening to me. The strong, “tough cookie” that I am ended up breaking down in tears. I was an emotional mess. You see, my professional role was shifting into the “unknown” because of a major systematic and operational change in the company. At this point, I had already spent years facilitating change for others. But, this was the first time, at that level, to feel the pain and fear of change being forced onto me.

This was a humbling experience for me. This difficult experience helped me learn a lot about myself and others. I began a journey of learning everything I could about change, change management, how people respond to change, how to recognize resistance, and how to better facilitate change. Armed with this new insight, I began applying this knowledge both professionally and personally to all future projects.

Is your business, organization, or department undergoing, or preparing to undergo change? Consider taking proactive steps to improve implementation success. There are multiple strategies you can take to manage the human aspect of change.

Change management mythologies, approaches and tools are structural in nature which methodically guide or foster the adoption of change. Of all aspects of change management, communication is the key factor in increasing success of change adoption. You may want to consider a dedicated team to proactively design the change management approach, implement it and foster staff change adoptions.

In addition to change management, understanding the signs of resistance to change will support your change management team and managers in responding more quickly — mitigating tough situations. When looking at resistance to change, it is important to recognize that the behavioral and emotional response is many times different than the core reason behind the response.

All resistance leads to the core belief that one has lost or is losing control and becoming more vulnerable — professionally and personally.

Resistance to change is not always logical or deliberate. Some resistance is obvious. But, when resistance is subtle or subconscious, it is not always easy to discern.

Who can resist change? Anyone — executives, management, middle management, employees and third-parties.

Intense resistance can produce anger, violence, defiance, panic and sabotage.

Moderate resistance can produce fear, uncomfortable feelings, emotional responses and breakdowns, complaining, anxiety, “What about me?” feelings, quick decisions (efforts to stop change without thought), quick decisions to abruptly change direction, and quick thinking emotional spinning.

Subconscious residence can include false quick buy-in, delays and busy work to delay, indecisiveness, and excessive “Thinking it through.”

Being proactive by implementing change management, having compassion for those impacted by the change, and recognizing the signs of resistance can contribute to a more successful change implementation.

If your organizational change is a business-critical change, using change management will be an effective way to mitigate risks and help reduce overall cost of the change.

If change management is new to your organization, consider the many resources out there to help your team design and implement a change management program.

Becky Willard operates Beacon Grace LLC — a supply chain technology and professional consulting firm located at Hagerstown Community College’s Technology Innovation Center. Visit www.beacon or call 240-329-9400.