Change is a Four Room Apartment

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interior design of a house

You’re anxiously anticipating getting everyone back in the office. Human Resources is about to send out the email communication dictating how people will be coming back to the workplace. You’ve read the communication and you’ve talked with a few of your peers. Everyone is on board, but you all sense your remote workforce is less than eager to get back in the office.

So what are you going to do to create a sense of trust, belonging, and safety? More importantly, how are you going to convince your team they need to get back into the old routine of coming in to the office each day?

Change is hard, and as leaders, we all need to deal with change before our teams do. We need to understand the four stages that people go through and how to handle each stage effectively and empathically.

So what are the four stages of change, the four rooms of this apartment?

Contentment, Denial, Confusion, and Renewal.

As you can imagine, each room has a different feel, a different vibe. And because of that, we, as leaders, must enter each room with a different agenda to achieve appropriate outcomes in each room.

So let’s walk into the first room of our change apartment – contentment.

This room is painted a cool blue. Everything is calm, relaxed, confident, and optimistic. Of course, in this room, nothing has changed yet. It’s still the same as it was last week, last month, maybe even last year.

Now you might think it is best to keep out of this room, since everything is fine and no change is occurring. But you can’t just leave people sitting there unattended. They’ll get bored, restless, and maybe even wonder if this is all there will ever be in their jobs.

The best thing we can do for the folks that live in this room is to monitor their progress, tune the system, and most importantly, keep these people happy and engaged in their work. All people like to grow and improve, so schedule time for the team to ideate and brainstorm new ideas for growth and change.

When people are given the opportunity to see from different perspectives and create new visions from a space of contentment, they are subconsciously preparing for change.

This is not to say that change will come easy for these folks. And let’s face it, we don’t spend much time (if any) preparing this way for upcoming change, so it will still be a challenge when the change comes.

And guess what? It just came. Let’s take a peek into the next room of the change apartment – denial.

This room is not very inviting. The walls are a dull red color and its inhabitants are not happy.

They feel irritated, tense, cynical, and most likely, not well informed. This room needs some TLC – some tender, loving care.

In this room, we need to bring all the facts, and deliver them quickly and clearly. We need to explain the scope of the change, the timeline, and specifically what the company is doing to make this shift easier for everyone involved.

Being a leader, this room is hard to sit in for too long, because the negative energy can be forceful and overwhelming. Your job is to stick to the facts and focus on the efforts being made by the company to ensure a smooth transition.

You want to instill a sense of shared effort in making this change. People tend to think the onus is all on them when a company makes a change. Your job is to help them understand everyone, including leadership, management, and staff, will be adjusting and going through some growing pains.

Once you’ve helped to ease the pain of denial, you’ll need to address the needs brewing in the next room of the change apartment – confusion.

This room’s occupants are not as angry or cynical as the room of denial, but they are still trying to figure out what impact this change will have on their work and their mindset.

Here you will find people who are feeling frustrated, sad, helpless, and even a bit left out. The reason this happens is because most managers feel their work is done once they’ve explained the details of the change and what is required of their employees.

This is where you, as a highly effective leader, can make the difference. Keep engaging with your team by providing more details as they become available, and helping people see what’s in it for them. Ease the discomfort of confusion by explaining the benefits they receive as they successfully transition through this change, and what additional benefits will come once the change is a part of the everyday process.

Additionally, give your team a boost of confidence by updating them on recent wins and how they are affecting the company, its customers, and how top leadership is responding to the change.

Once you’ve eased your people through denial and confusion, the next stage is much easier to deal with. Now you enter the room of renewal. Here people are feeling eager, energized, inspired, and creative.

People in this room are becoming comfortable with the change, and are working it into their regular process and work life. And as they become more comfortable, they begin to see how they can tweak some changes that can be more helpful or profitable. Encourage your team to work together to come up with new ways to make the change more reliable, more adaptable, and more sustainable.

Involvement and innovation provide a sense of belonging, value, and ownership. These qualities build greater trust across the team and across the management-staff divide.

While each room has its own specific moods and best practices, one thing you should always do in every room is express appreciation and recognition. And don’t forget the rewards. People love getting rewards for doing good work.

So how will you keep people happy and challenged in the room of contentment? How will you reduce anxiety and discomfort in the rooms of denial and confusion? And how will you engage and drive innovation in the room of renewal?

Change is never easy, but it is always on the horizon, around the corner, or right in front of us. How you prepare for change, manage the change, and recognize and reward the changemakers is the difference between a run of the mill manager and a legendary leader. Who do you want to be?

Your Mindful Moment:

Change is unavoidable. Don’t run from it. Go find it!

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