Leading Change: Why Things Get Worse Before they Get Better

Things typically get worse before they get better. That’s not pessimism. It’s reality.

What happens when you ‘improve’ a practice or procedure at work? Productivity goes down. Frustration goes up. It takes time to learn and adapt.

Why things get worse before they get better:

Change curve:

change curve

The flat blue line represent business as it should be. The red star indicates a gap between current state and desired state. Pain and urgency are a function of the gap.

Successful change may yield greater than expected benefits.

Change means something that worked in the past goes away.

Heart balloon

Change means something that worked in the past goes away.

5 ways resistance responds to change:

  1. The longing effect. You complain and pine for the ‘good ole’ days.
  2. The stress effect. Before the change you knew your place. How will you fit in now?
  3. The clinging strategy. I’m not going to adapt. Maybe resistance will prevent change.
  4. The ignorance effect. You feel uncomfortable not knowing. Learning new skills requires relearning.
  5. The genius effect. You know better. People behind the change are idiots. Dealing with idiots is frustrating.

Discouragement and depression are bedfellows of prolonged frustration.

Lessons from death:

The five stages of grief defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross apply to our response to unwanted change.

  1. Denial.
  2. Anger.
  3. Bargaining.
  4. Depression.
  5. Acceptance.

There is no guarantee you’ll get to stage five. You might gather your toys and run home instead of accepting an unwanted change. Or you might stay on the team, but persistently pull sideways.

5 stages in the emotional cycle of change*:

  1. Uninformed optimism. It’s going to be great.
  2. Informed pessimism. Wow! It’s not so great.
  3. Hopeful realism. This is harder than it looks.
  4. Informed optimism. We can do this.
  5. Completion. Yeah! We did it.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Dan Millman

What makes leading change difficult?

What suggestions might you offer for successfully leading through change?

Bonus material:

*Kelley and Conner’s Emotional Cycle of Change – from MindTools.com

Template: Change Proposal (dpac.tas.gov.au)

On Death And Dying: Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth

Ten Reasons People Resist Change (hbr.org)