While facilitating scores of change management workshops over the years, I’ve challenged participants to change a few things about their appearances. In response, they remove their glasses, loosen their ties, etc. Once they have struggled through that, I ask them to change a few more things, and then do it again and again. With each round, people groan and complain (sometimes bitterly) that they want the process to stop. Some get stuck; some refuse to change. Others react creatively, get excited about the possibilities, and become increasingly creative with each subsequent round! It sounds like a simple enough exercise – and it is. However, it illustrates how people react to change, how they cope, and which ones will embrace versus resist change.
So, why am I bringing this up today? That little exercise illustrates the emotional reactions to change that I’ve observed over the years:
- Initially, everyone groans as we start an exercise like this. Many are confused, uncertain, and perhaps annoyed that we are heading into “the unknown”. I didn’t see this on the agenda, they note. In other words, I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t prepare for this. Was this approved in advance?
- After the first round of changes, some participants seem more comfortable – Hmmm . . . That wasn’t too bad. I can handle this! Although they believed that they’d conquered the “assignment” with minimum disruption, that changed with each subsequent round, as they became more challenged to move beyond their comfort zones. Some became almost desperate to figure out what to do to comply with the instructions within a short time.
- Most people comment after the exercise that they felt anxious during the entire process, and that anxiety increased substantially with each new round. Because the participants did not know how many rounds we would do, many became angry because they didn’t know what was coming next. They had no control. Wow . . . I didn’t think it would ever end, and I really didn’t know what I’d have to do next.
- At the first opportunity, most participants reversed every change they’d made immediately. Whew! I’m sure relieved THAT’s over!
Interestingly, in every case, participants said afterwards that they could relate to the exercise because it was totally realistic for them in change situations at work, at home and in their communities.
Doesn’t that sound all too familiar to you . . . especially now?
Think about what’s going on all around us as we are engulfed in the coronavirus pandemic. As a country and across the globe, no one was prepared for this pandemic. Even the experts who study and prepare for pandemics have not been successful in mustering support for implementing many of their recommendations. Since 9/11 and even prior, FEMA has been advising Americans to stockpile food, water and other survival resources for disasters. Few have done it. Financial advisors plead with us to stash a six-month reserve of ready cash “just in case”. Few have done it. Health care futurists worry that our health care system is not performing optimally, despite its many accomplishments. Medical centers, clinicians, labs, pharma companies and others throughout our health care industry claim they are prepared for the future, but few have done it. Clearly, most Americans are ill-prepared for the changes we are facing today. Regardless, we cling to the belief that all will eventually be well, promising ourselves that we will not be this unprepared in the future. But, for now, our anxiety rises . . .
We were certainly not prepared for the transformational changes surrounding us . . . but then again, we’re also hoping this pandemic will go away as soon as possible so that we can return to “normal”. Almost every hour on the hour, pundits offer predictions about how long this pandemic will have us in its grip, and to what extent things will ever be the same again. But the truth of the matter is that we just don’t know . . . And our anxiety rises.
As the days and weeks go by, do we still have confidence that we will get through this? Or are we starting to wonder what the long-term effects will be? On any given day, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve sounds confident that the economy will bounce back after this episodic event. Other economists are hopeful but less confident. What will they say tomorrow? . . . And our anxiety rises.
Here’s the interesting question . . . Will we do what the change management workshop participants have generally done – revert to the same-old-same-old as soon as things get back to normal? Or will we take a good look at ourselves, our country, and our systems to learn important lessons and sustain the beneficial changes that are emerging from this crisis? Here are just six that matter to me . . . Add yours to this list:
- Will we insist that our Government, our businesses, and our households have a plan for future pandemics, germ warfare, or other disasters that have the potential to immobilize our entire society, economic structure, and infrastructures?
- Will we recognize that spending time at home with the family – eating meals, learning, having substantial quality time – isn’t just nice to do, it’s critically important for our culture, our values, our future? Individually and as managers, how do we really achieve the work-life balance that has alluded us for years?
- Will we embrace the technology that enables us to keep going no matter what – e.g., working and going to school at home, holding virtual social events with family and friends from near and far, connecting with physicians, and enjoying music and entertainment?
- Will we continue to enjoy long walks and appreciate being outdoors, for both personal fitness and recreation? Will we appreciate the importance of policies supporting a cleaner, safer environment?
- Will we insist on integrated care for our physical and behavioral health needs, recognizing the intrinsic importance of the mind-body connection, as well as the direct connection between health and our core needs for home, nutrition, and safety and security?
- Will we shore up our safety net to support critical services for our most vulnerable populations?
What about you? Post-Covid-19, as we emerge from the proverbial black hole, are you prepared to embrace and sustain the beneficial changes that have emerged from this terrible crisis, or will you reject change in your haste to get back to normal?
Stay safe, be well, and be ready to embrace the new normal!
A-G Associates is fully accessible during this period with the ability to virtually connect with our employees and clients using a variety of platforms. For advice, planning and support as you approach the new normal, contact us at A-G Associates, Inc.: