Tackling your change baggage
“History matters when studying change, it’s not just events and chronology, it is carried forward in the human consciousness. The past is alive in the present and may be shaping the emerging future.” Pettigrew, Woodman and Cameron (2001).
Past changes impact on current changes. Although it’s tempting to just put an unsuccessful change behind you and sweep it under the rug, it’s actually really important to turn and look it in the eyes. As a leader of change you will not only be managing the current transition but also the ghosts of past changes. This ‘change baggage’ has 2 parts to it:
1. The emotional hangover
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” 1. Even the best made change plans are accompanied by an emotional hangover. Because of how our brains are wired, it’s like an emotional minefield when you implement a change. By avoiding the triggers you can escape unscathed, but make one mistake and the consequences will be both disproportionate and lingering.
What can you do?
Reflect on what has happened before and learn from it. How are people feeling? What worked well? What hasn’t worked so well? Do you need to counteract any past mistakes?
2. Impacting expectations
If people don’t know what’s going on with your change then they’ll probably just assume it will be the same as last time. It’s really important that you manage expectations throughout your change; both practical and psychological. The practical implications are things like the extra work they’ll have to do, the support they’ll get and the compensation they’ll receive. And the psychological expectations include feelings, both positive and negative.
What can you do?
Internal communication is really important to manage these expectations. In particular, you’ll need to focus some of your attention on those who are cynics about change. If they’ve experienced an unsuccessful change before then they may lack faith in the leaders’ abilities to manage change this time around. By targeting these people you can stop these feelings festering and becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. You need to measure and manage this change cynicism to make your change successful.
1 Angelou, M. (1997). I know why the caged bird sings. Bantam Dell Publishing Group.