The Effects of Fear of Change – This Time Its Personal


I recently sat down on a Saturday evening with a stack of packing materials – boxes, shrink wrap, newsprint and tape—ready to conquer the job of packing up the house for an impending move.  I sat on the floor with all of the tools needed to do the job neatly laid around me.  I had a plan in my head: start with all of the photos on the walls and then move room-by-room until I reached the biggest challenge of them all, the kitchen.

I started by taking down one picture off the wall and laid it on a layer of newsprint.  I could feel my blood pressure rise as I tucked the paper to protect the corners on the picture frame.  The shakiness in my hands was at an all time high and my motivation reached a new low.  As I reached for the shrink wrap roll, I suddenly felt overwhelmed.  I had to stop.  My ability to complete the job at hand dropped to zero.

I felt defeated.  It had nothing to do my ability to pack up a house for a move.  It had everything to do with the underlying fears around where I would live next, who would be my co-workers, and how much I would miss the comforts of the home I created here.

And then it struck me, “These are the same physiological reactions my clients experience when they are first exposed to change.  They feel the internal rise in blood flow, the extra alertness in the mind and the urge to either fight or run away.  These feelings can reach an overwhelming level with potential to create an emotional shut down.”

For example, when we as change agents implement a process improvement plan, we may ask a manufacturing professional to use a different wrench than the one he has used for decades to complete the task.  Our goal is to have consistent processes and tools within the manufacturing of a product.  When everyone uses the same tool to tighten the same bolt on the assembly line, we decrease the potential variation on the final product.  This should increase the quality of work produced through greater consistency.

It sounds like a reasonable request from the leadership team; however, without proper change management methodologies in place, the new tool for the manufacturing professional may provide the same stumbling block as wrapping up the first picture frame during my recent move.

This is where change management methodologies and strategies come into play.  By assessing the sponsors, stakeholders and audiences early in the project planning phase, it is possible to identify the potential areas of risk.  To address the risks, a change plan is developed to help the impacted audiences make it though the change with as little impact as possible on their productivity, helping these individuals reach full productivity (and ultimately ROI) more efficiently.

This comparison between my clients and myself definitely helped me understand the challenges anyone faces as a change becomes palpable.  In order to minimize the productivity risk based out of fear, an overall assessment, an empathetic listening session, communication on the reason why and how these changes impact the profitability of the company and a roadmap to where the impacted person is headed after the change area all necessary.

Back on my project to pack up the house, I put down the work for a few minutes so I could run my own stakeholder assessment on myself, analyzed the risks and fears and was able to develop a change strategy that helped me stay focused on succeeding through this move instead of becoming paralyzed by it.  I finished my project thinking of the good that was coming my way though the change and was able to squelch the debilitating fear that originally stood in my way. 

I had experienced the benefits of change management on a personal level.