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💛 How to Process Change as a Change Leader

change leader change readiness well-being Sep 25, 2022

Being a change leader and supporting organizational change can be rewarding, fulfilling, and challenging. While Apogy's Change Leader Training & Certification Course helps equip change leaders with the tools and skills they need to support change, the reality is—change is hard. Humans are biologically conditioned to "reject" change and maintain the status quo. No matter how positive a change is, adapting to new behaviors, structures, mindsets, leadership, processes, and tools can feel overwhelming because it disrupts our preferred steady state. 

At Apogy, we emphasize the link between well-being and change initiative success. This post offers tips for processing workplace change in a healthy and productive way, so you can effectively lead and guide others through their own change transitions. 

Ask questions to obtain a complete understanding. When a change is first introduced, our instinct is to ask, “what does this mean for me?"  Your organization may look to you as the change leader to plan and carry out the change, so a better, more productive question to ask yourself is, “how can I be helpful?" This simple reframe focuses on obtaining the facts about the transition and ensuring you have an accurate understanding of what's to come - instead of getting stuck in self-concern. 

Schedule time for self-reflection. Self-reflection is a powerful tool for understanding your beliefs, why you hold onto them, and how they affect your actions and outcomes. Self-reflection allows us to dig deep within and question what drives us or holds us back in various areas of our lives, including our roles at work and especially when dealing with change. An acronym we use at Apogy  for dropping into the headspace for self-reflection is STILL:

  • S - Sit down or lay in savasana
  • T - Name something you are thankful for 
  • I - Practice intentional breathing 
  • L - Let go of judgment and expectations 
  • L - Log (journal) insights and observations 

To fulfill your role as a change leader, it's essential to process your own thoughts and feelings about the change. Self-reflection is a tool you can use to explore how the change impacts not only your role and responsibilities, but your sense of self and where you have concerns.  Self-reflection is one of many skills included in Apogy's certification program, so sign up to learn more if interested.

Create space between you and your work and plan some time off if needed. Depending on the type of change you're supporting, you may need time and space away to process before diving in. Changes that have a direct impact on people’s livelihoods, such as a reduction in force, can take a toll on our emotional well-being. Life circumstances can also require a break in stride. No matter the specifics of your situation, taking time to disconnect and relax, spend time with loved ones, or practice self-care can provide the boost you need to keep going. 

Talk your feelings through with someone you trust. In the initial stages, the impending change may not be public knowledge within your organization. Knowing confidential information can sometimes feel isolating. Rather than go it alone, consider discussing your feelings and concerns with someone you trust outside the workplace.  Mentors, coaches, and therapists are reliable sources you can turn to when you need an unbiased (and confidential) listening ear. 

Identify and understand if the change is a threat or reward. David Rock is a researcher who explains our brains tend to view things from the lens of threat or reward. He developed a brain-based model called SCARF. The SCARF model includes five domains of human social experience: 

  • Status: relative importance to others
  • Certainty: the ability to anticipate the future
  • Autonomy: a sense of control over events
  • Relatedness: a sense of safety with others
  • Fairness: perception of fair exchanges between people

Rock's SCARF model recognizes that when we minimize threats and maximize rewards across these five domains of experience, we're more effective at collaborating and influencing others. As a change leader, you can use this lens to question whether you feel threatened by the change because it affects one of these domains. 

Suppose an organizational restructuring pushes the change and project managers to a new division within the organization. The restructuring results in a new management level that creates more “distance” between the change leaders and the executive leadership team. A change leader may view this as potentially threatening to their status, fearful of becoming less important and valuable to the leadership team. In this scenario, the change leader can use SCARF to better understand where they feel threatened and why, and what they need to do to shift the lens of the change from threat to that of reward. For example, could working with the new management level result in different skills and competencies? Does the restructuring present an opportunity to find a mentor on the executive team? What other benefits could come from this? 

It's important to remember that change is a unique, personal, and often emotional process. We can have many feelings and responses because of change. Rolf Gates, yoga teacher and author of the book Meditations from the Mat, says “The belief that it is possible to heal the world without healing ourselves first is what the Yoga Sutras call a lack of true knowledge”. 

The same is true for leading organizational change. To help others become Aware, Ready, and Trained (ART), we must prioritize taking care of ourselves and processing our own thoughts and beliefs before we can be truly effective as a change leader for others. 

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