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Navigating Change with Care: How to Thrive in a Disruptive Work Environment 

Change is present and all around us – this is a fact of life, especially in today’s work environment. In fact, according to this recent Gallup survey, seven in 10 workers across the US said they have gone through “disruptive change” within their organization in the last year. Change is common! Ann Latham, a contributor for Forbes, claims in a recent article, that people don’t hate change, they hate poorly managed change. Let’s explore what happens to us as individuals when we experience change, and how we can support those in our span of care when we ask them to change.  

What happens when we experience change?   

Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn about a change and immediately be ready to take action and adopt the change? If only it was that easy. In actuality, we go through an entire process when we learn about changes that impact us. Let’s consider what this process can look like.  

First, we are introduced to change. Imagine, during a call with your team, your leader tells you all that they are moving into a new position and your team would have a new direct leader. They tell you who the leader is going to be and answer any questions that immediately come to mind.  

Next is when the processing of the change actually starts to take place. There are four elements, and we can move back and forth between them throughout the process.   

One of the elements of change is anxiety – we experience lots of emotion, like agitation or fear, after learning about the change. This can look different for each individual. You may become sad about losing your leader and worried about the time it would take to get to know and build a relationship with the new one. You may also wonder how this is going to impact your workload, as well as the workload of the people on your team. 

Another element of change is acceptance. Now that we know about the change, we might be able to make sense of it in our heads and rationalize it. After a little while you may begin to understand why this change is a good thing. For one, it will allow your previous leader to do more strategic work in a new role. Your new leader may bring different strengths and perspectives with her that would freshen up your team. 

Attachment is the third element of processing change. We begin to get some emotional buy-in on the change, and maybe even start to like it. You start to get excited about getting a new leader and could see how your values aligned theirs.  

Finally, we anticipate the change by preparing for it. Some people do this by planning time for their team to celebrate and cherish their time with our previous leader before the change took place. You can also begin to think about what would be helpful for your new leader to know about you, what’s important to you, and how you work best.  

Again, we can move back and forth between these four elements – they aren’t linear. Once we’ve processed and are ready to act on the change, we move into action.  

Supporting others through change  

Change can be messy and doesn’t always go as smoothly as it’s described above. There are things we can do as leaders to help those in our span of care process change. Extended DISC provides us with some helpful tips to consider when moving folks through the change process in this video and outlined below. 

If the person affected by the change likes to have control or direct a project, consider how you can ensure they have a voice in the conversation and maintain their sense of ownership. 

If they have a love for people and need a sense of connection, consider how you might be able to reassure them through the change and remind them of all of the supports in place. 

If they really need stability, remind them of the things that are staying the same or are familiar. You can also give them the time and space to adjust. 

Finally, if they have a strong need for understanding or information, make sure they know what the new plan is and give information about what is going on behind the scenes.  

For me, I would need time to process the change. I need to ask questions whenever they come to mind and find reassurance by receiving information about where this change came from and build a plan that would be as least disruptive to my current work routine as possible. That would help me move through the change process and get to a place of action where I had truly accepted the change and was excited about it.  

Setting the Course

When a change is introduced to you, recognize if you are giving yourself the time and space to process it. Are you experiencing any emotions linked to anxiety? Which element of change are you experiencing in the current moment? Remember that this isn’t a linear process, and that it’s perfectly normal to move back and forth between elements. Give yourself grace.  

If you are introducing a change to someone in your life, whether it be personal or professional, recognize that you’re putting them through the change process. Consider what they might need in order for the change to be successful. Do they need ownership of a part of the change? Do they need to be able to ask you a bunch of questions? Supporting people through the change process is the most likely way you’ll be able to get to the new outcome you were hoping for, all while maintaining the relationship.