October 23, 2023

The Pain of Change

We all feel it. I know, I’m one of those people who thrive on change, always looking for new ideas and challenges to pursue. And I still find myself stuck in the mud sometimes.

History and Tradition

That’s when I fall back on my typical excuse, “I’m a traditionalist.” I do value tradition and I appreciate history. I especially like to hang on to things other people would throw out, like instructions to old sewing machines, an interesting brass candle snuffer, and a “brand new” packet of lipstick blotting tissues that were given away as a bread company promotion decades ago.

I appreciate these things because they remind me of how things used to be done. By the same token, corporate history – which is so often forgotten – fascinates me. It’s easily lost when people retire and new leadership comes in.

The perennial quest to forge ahead, onward and upward, creates a dichotomy between the lessons of the past and the promise of the future. This is one reason many people find change to be a challenge. We don’t want to lose our history and even ourselves in the process of becoming something new.

Change Isn’t a Thing

Do you look at change as an event? Many people view change as a milestone, saying things like “As soon as we roll this out…” or “When we complete the acquisition,” as if change has a defined date to start and stop.

It doesn’t.

Change happens daily in such small increments that we often don’t notice. You know what I mean. You look at a child and think “How did he get to be so tall?” or scan the parking lot and wonder, “Why didn’t I notice my car was looking old?”

People often dwell on the negatives and lament changes. The mirror shows the “sudden” appearance of wrinkles, gray hair, or extra pounds and we turn away, afraid to look.

At work, many changes happen at a snail’s pace. We didn’t go from faxes to email to text messages overnight. It took years and a long process of evolution.

When change happens quickly, resistance forms because we’re so used to this long slow crawl into the future. Speedy change is jarring, and even change junkies like me can dig in our heels and say, “Hold on just a stinkin’ minute while I get my bearings!”

Change Takes Forever

In an article about “Leading Change…Until it Hurts,” Kevin Berchelmann, CEO and Founder of Triangle Performance, LLC, explains why big change initiatives often face diminishing returns and waning enthusiasm.

When we’re excited about a change, it’s easy to rush into it with high hopes. After the big early wins are over, people tire of the effort and lose momentum.

Kevin says, “Too frequently, we give up or decrease our efforts and focus after an initial burst of successful change. We overcome the hardest part of any change – inertia – then don’t follow through after we make those initial gains.”

I see this occasionally with clients who are gung-ho at the beginning of a long project, only to start questioning its benefits 3 months down the road. What happened? They got used to the change and started to see the new way as something that had always been so.

Assimilating change is good, although it’s also when we can forget why we started in the first place. We don’t remember how things really were before, and we assume there’s no need to keep up the effort. As Kevin points out, this is a grave error in judgment.

Impatience is the Enemy of Progress

On the surface, a healthy dose of impatience seems like a good thing. It can spark the dissatisfaction that ignites change. The downside is that impatience erodes focus, causing commitment to waver and keeping the status quo firmly in place.

It’s OK that change takes forever, it should.

Change needs to be sustained, patiently, over time. Looking at it from a transactional point of view undermines progress. It tells us that it’s OK to stop and start, or even quit if things are not going well.

The pace of change can and should be moderated. Some changes are handled better with speed and efficiency while others require careful deliberation. It’s fine to take a break, re-group, and even sit on a plateau for a while, provided you’re working a plan for where you’re going and how to get there.

To succeed with change, shift your mindset. Think of it as a way of life and embrace it. Loving change makes it a whole lot easier to live with.

About the Author Joellyn Fergsuon

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