Merging into the highway: how do we manage change

Safely driving demands specific skills, such as caution, awareness, signalling our movements in advance, and so on. That is especially true when merging into the highway: accelerate to match traffic speed, check the traffic ahead and behind us, communicate your intentions clearly, try to blend in without disrupting the flow, no sudden movements, no obstructions, right? Well, not quite. Imperceptible as it may seem, we have just adapted to this new environment, accelerating or braking, anticipating other drivers’ actions and safely blending in with the new pattern. And success for everybody is riding on the combination of the driving abilities and predictive skills of everyone involved. How is that like facing change in our everyday life?

Forced to “merge” into this pandemic, and trying to come to terms with it, my thoughts invariably lingered around the idea of disruption. As I tried to unravel those feelings, I faced how uncomfortable we are when confronted by change, associating it not only with disruption and disarray, but essentially with loss. It can be emotional or financial loss, or even an influence shift, but we cringe when we hear expressions like “the only constant in life is change” or “embrace change”. Yeah, right, easier said than done.

Funny thing is, we secretly know that things do change, albeit we don’t like to admit to it. Just like we cannot prevent Sundays to turn into Mondays, or freeze our kids into their adorable young age, things tend to fluctuate, adjust, and evolve, both good AND bad things. We don’t always see these shifts as improvement, but it is important to look at them dispassionately. Change is not intrinsically bad or good, it is just a rupture on routine. And if awareness, planning and pro activeness can improve our odds with Lady Fortuna, the same can be done within a changing environment.

#own – First of all, take responsibility. If you cross the street without looking, you may face a change from whole to parts (or alive to dead). In a less dramatic scenario, if your work routine is shaken by a change plan, think about why that is: Have you question why you do what you do, and how you do it? Have you asked, “what if”? Is there a way of getting the same outcome using less resources? Can I achieve better results with the same resources?

#beaware – A lot of people get surprised when changes are forced upon them, but if they had taken the time to take a hard look around, they would have realized that – not to let another cliche go to waste – “this too shall pass”. If you don’t want to – yet another one – “be a change agent”, at least be prepared, don’t let (r)evolution sneak up on you.

For me, another relevant aspect of awareness – conceivably the most relevant – may be the capacity of ‘reading’ the culture and current environment. Some companies encourage and welcome change, seeing it as a natural path for continual improvement, and labelling inquisitive people as, well, inquisitive and interested. Other places and people are the opposite, labelling those making suggestions and asking questions as impertinent and intrusive.

#knowthyself and #knowthycompany – Before going anywhere, you need first to know where you want to go, what kind of traveller you are, what your travelling company is like and who are your companions. Some people find comfort in those long stretches of straight roads, no change of scenery or weather. They would be happy on a bus to Vegas – hey, no judgment here – Others like the mountain routes, with its challenges, twists and rewarding views. Again, it is your ride, choose the destination and mode of transportation the better suits you, and know what your signing in for.

#adapt – If we cannot avoid it – and maybe you don’t want to – let’s try to ride it. Most situations offer opportunities, and changes invariably create new ones. Remember, even that bus to Vegas may run into mechanical problems or who knows, sheep.

Don’t forget, be aware: perceive who is accelerating and who is braking. Discerning those with a destination from those just coasting along, may give you a better insight on how to proceed. Even if you are not driving, it does not mean that you should be asleep the whole trip!

On our next road trip, let’s talk about the times when you are the one driving the change, sort of executing construction on the highway. Expand a bit on some specific measures like:

know and communicate the reasons for change.
clearly communicate the time-frame for the construction.
advertise how much benefit drivers will gain from the initiative; for those few who are going to take longer to get home, be honest and empathetic.
adapt your construction plans to the company speed average.
get the drivers to support and adopt the new patterns; try to keep everyone travelling, and make sure that if you lose a few users, it was not because you neglected them.

Be calm, be kind, be safe! And be aware!

#changemanagement #changereadiness #changemindset

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