In today’s hyperactive, overstimulated world, the speed and force of changes are the enemy. When moving at a measured pace in either giving or depriving someone of something, we create a very different reaction than when we do these things with very high speed and force.

For example, one can get a wild horse to accept a rider if it's done very slowly. However, if this is done too fast, the horse won’t accept the change.

The COVID-19 pandemic serves as another real-life example. For many of us, our work life experience changed very rapidly when we packed up and began working from home virtually for the indefinite future. The speed and force of that transition created upset for many individuals.

Leading With Science

Change has long been recognized as one aspect of human behavior that creates complex challenges for individuals in all walks of life, not just in the workplace. Change management is a specialized discipline that blends business acumen with applied philosophy, psychology, emotional intelligence, neuroscience and behavioral economics. It’s a scientific approach that can help with finding answers that can ease transitions and overcome anxieties that often are at the root of resistance to change.

One key insight from the discipline zeros in on how the speed of talk or action can impact the effectiveness of change programs. This is especially true when folks are saturated or fed up.

All of us are chained to some degree to upsets that have occurred in the past. We may have never understood or acknowledged why we felt so upset about changes in situations affecting family, friends, co-workers or other groups. But these experiences accumulate, creating mindsets that reduce willingness to change and prevent change implementation.

Change management is a discipline that, when applied effectively, can help with all of this. As a profession, we use understanding gained from the body of knowledge accumulated through research and other scientific techniques to encourage people and businesses to change their ways of working. We can help influence people and organizations in gaining clarity into how our spheres of influence may be at the root of our reactions to and perceptions about change.

This is a complex role. In addition to developing and serving as guardians of the change approach, we must create capacity and the capability for change at every level in the organization.

This often involves recognizing the importance of balance between the need for change and the need to keep the business on track — conducting “business as usual.”

One large client is currently saturated to the point that work doesn’t happen outside virtual meetings. Calendars are fully booked with people scheduled in back-to-back virtual meetings. How is any new project that produces change in the operation going to actually get done?

Most organizations recognize that change is required for continuous improvement. However, the speed of those improvements — or change — can be an important factor. The fact is change is an ongoing and normal part of the business landscape. The primary factor causing the most upset really is how fast change is coming, along with how much we are being asked to absorb at once.

Strategies for Success

When introducing or discussing change programs, it is best to clearly identify what hasn’t changed.

The media in all its forms can saturate folks with all that has changed and is likely to continue changing. A useful exercise is to take a few minutes, look around and take stock of what hasn’t changed for ourselves. Look at your car, job, hair, house, coffee, computer or pets.

Recent changes may be more jarring and dramatic, but if we put all of them in proper perspective — perhaps looking at what is not changing — we may be in better position to navigate our way. Isolating those elements that are changing makes them seem more manageable. Let’s work with this concept when putting together communications and strategies.

As many of us begin heading back into the office, this may be especially helpful to keep in mind when developing and implementing strategies for yourself or others as the pandemic wanes.


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This is the second in a four-part series examining change management and its effects. Check out our other topics:

Dana Houston Jackson is the lead principal change adviser at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell. A straight shooter and advocate of new thinking, Dana prides herself in simplifying the complex in a “box-poking,” 25-year career in organizational development and change management. Some of her clients include energy, utility, technology, manufacturing and construction companies, government and academia, and nonprofits.