Don’t Fear Change: Plan for It

Holiday presents are wrapped.  Decorations have adorned the building for months, it seems.  The snow is lightly falling out the leaded coffee house window.  It’s quite a magical and idyllic, almost surreal working environment.  It’s always been one of my favorite times of the year, not just because of the gifts, food, and family gatherings.  It’s the anticipation of things to come, of promises and goals and a renewal of passion toward the things that matter most.

This year, the holidays take on even greater significance for me personally and professionally.  A new chapter is about to begin.  2012 holds much promise of success, passion, and accomplishment.  It’s the exciting side of change.

Change is painful.

Change sucks.

I resist change.

The stereotypical responses to change in our lives go on and on.  Most people inherently prefer a predictable routine, a comfort zone within which they know their responsibilities and their skill sets.  They don’t seek out stretch assignments.  They opt for the “safe route,” avoiding risks for fear of the “what if.”

It’s not just an individual trait, however.  More and more, the stalwarts of American business similarly resist the necessity to change.  More over, the leadership of many corporations beats back at the winds of change out of fear.

What if I don’t have a place in the new world?

What if my people get upset about the change?

What if I/we fail?

Well, guess what?  Fear is the #1 change emotion. Everyone’s afraid of failing, of having to adapt, of moving outside their comfort zone.  But the reality is, your risk of failing and the likelihood of your comfort zone (as an individual or an organization) becoming irrelevant (or worse yet, antiquated) is typically heightened with greater resistance to change.

The solution, therefore, is a deliberate and steady embrace of continuous change.  Individuals’ and organizations’ ability to both accept and seek out change while it is still mere adaptation, instead of full re-tooling.

  1. Purposefully contemplate – Making changes doesn’t usually come automatically.  And if it does, the process of change itself can produce erratic and unintended consequences.  So, take time to actively ponder the direction you want and need to move, both personally and professionally.  Reflect on what’s worked and where you’ve encountered difficulties.  Do this before the calendar changes on the setting year.
  2. Incorporate passion – It’s one thing to understand trends in your industry (or life in general).  It’s another to have to devote time and energy on developing skills for which you have any inherent interest.  A better strategy is to understand current and future needs, and to figure out where our interests and passions overlap.  Sometimes the intersection is limited, and other times, there is quite a lot of common ground.  Regardless, make sure you have a real desire and passion for incorporating changes.
  3. Set action steps – Without first a goal and then a well-defined path for reaching it, we are doomed to failure.  Once you have clarified your vision forward, plot a course, complete with individual steps and sub-goals for accomplishing it.
  4. Actively engage – Within the action planning process, make sure to determine deadlines for reaching your goals. But also set check-steps to ensure you are actively moving along the path.  Often the hardest part of accomplishing goals is getting started.  Don’t let yourself be sabotaged by an inability to commence action.
  5. Plan for reevaluation – Both after you accomplish your goal, and periodically during the journey toward it, make sure you have planned explicit opportunities to check your progress.  But be open to making adaptations along the way.  The future is difficult to predict with exactness.  Goals can be tweaked without losing sight of the benefits or end results.

As a young adult, I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend more than a decade serving in the military.  Within that environment, change was even more of a constant than anywhere else I have worked or lived.  Missions changed.  Tours of duty constantly started and ended.  Personnel rotated to new bases and commands with dizzying frequency.  But in the end, the pace of change proved the best training ground one could imagine for understanding and embracing continuous personal and professional adaptation.  As technology progresses, other industries and society in general have similarly needed to incorporate change into their ways of doing things.

Embrace change.  Plan for it.  And make it part of your core practices.  It’s sink or swim time.  Don’t let yourself disappear beneath the waves of change!

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