Some years ago, I was living too far away from work, and had to get up too early to get there at a ridiculous hour.  Winter mornings were especially treacherous.  At 3:30 a.m. I would get into my Jeep Cherokee, head out on a dark, unplowed road, and hope to be lucky enough to fall in behind one of those conga lines of snow plows clearing the way.  That stretch was so isolated, driving it so stressful, that I couldn’t do one more January-February commute.  My daughter was about to start first grade, so if we were going to move, this was the time.

The answer seemed obvious – move to a town with similar attributes, closer to work.  It meant finding a buyer for our adorable little Cape-style house in a not-so-great-market, and finding a home in a neighborhood as cozy and neighborly. We’d grown used to this historic Massachusetts town with great little shops, restaurants, and excellent schools. And, we would have to spend more.  

My fiancé, now husband, got a vote, but since I owned the home, my vote counted more. My daughter was too young to vote, but old enough to feel forlorn. Saying goodbye to the cul-de-sac and her three-Musketeer friends across the street was something she didn’t understand. Our beloved nanny was even less thrilled. She was soon returning to Ireland, and didn’t exactly feel excited about packing up our family before she got herself out of dodge.     

Looking back I think our tiny family was a perfect laboratory for the change leadership we so often talk about with our clients.  It was an early taste of what the process of change is all about. The emotional ups and downs were similar to what happens in a company when change seems like a good idea, until people have to do it.

People can agree, in theory, a thing must be done, and then feel differently when they think about what it’s going to take. Things have to be fixed, changed, moved, and altered.  The daunting nature of daily life sends us back into “denial” about whether we need to do it at all.  We start, and then revert back to denial. It has to be discussed again. Resistance reappears; as a leader you feel like you’re taking one step forward, and two steps back. 

When we work with our clients we often refer to the process model below. Change dynamics start with denial, and morph into resistance.  You’re trying to move people into the next two boxes, trying things out, and then committing to action.  What happens, if you don’t keep everybody focused on the benefits, is they start thinking about all they have to lose, forget about what they stand to gain. The way things are doesn’t look so bad. You start to appreciate the status quo. When those emotions kick in, people’s brains go into “park,” and they find other things to do. 

stages of change

I saw this happen to one of my clients recently.  His own team would nod their heads when he got them together to talk about the strategic plan.  Then, one by one they showed up in his office, to tell him why it wouldn’t work. Some of them actually quit because they painted themselves into a corner defending the merits of the status quo. 

I remember those emotions. Even though I was convinced moving was right, I felt overwhelmed trying to find the new home, get the one we lived in sold, and do it in time for my daughter to start school. Maybe I was trying to do too much. I think this is how leaders feel sometimes. They're confronted with all that denial and resistance, start to question their decisions, and wonder whether change is even possible. They begin to blame the organization or the culture. 

The move worked out beautifully. We purchased a home we still live in. We love the neighborhood. My daughter went all the way through school there. It was worth it.

It’s hard to imagine what change is going to be like until you live it. You tend to imagine only pain, not bliss. That’s why it's absolutely essential for leaders to keep talking about what's out there in the future, what it’s going to look like, and how it’s going to feel. Your job is to paint that picture and keep people’s eyes on the prize. You need to communicate the vision with courage and conviction. Conviction overcomes resistance and gets you through those early, difficult days.

We have an excellent special report on communicating to lead change.  Let us know if you’d like a copy.

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