To Manage Change, Recognize That It Entails Loss

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Summary:
Adjusting to change entails coming to terms with loss. Keep that in mind if you want to ease the challenge people face in coping with change. In this article, Naomi Karten describes someone who never learned this lesson and what he might have done differently.

Many years ago, shortly after I started a new IT job, upper management decided that the company was going to switch to a new technology platform—one that would entail a massive conversion effort and a new way of doing nearly everything. I wasn’t alone in being mortified. My co-workers were shocked, upset, and angry. We were emotionally invested in the existing platform. It was the more popular platform, the more versatile, and the one with better job opportunities. It was what we knew. It was who we were.

To set the stage for the transition, management invited Rob, a vendor who represented the new platform, to give us an overview and prepare us for the transition. Rob came charging in, eager to tell us about “his way.” He described its capabilities. He touted its benefits. He showed examples of how much quicker, faster, and better it would be. He couldn’t wait for us to experience it for ourselves.

The more he talked, the more irate we became. People pelted him with questions. They challenged every feature he described and became increasingly enraged at his conviction that “his way” was the better way. Not to be deterred, he enthused and he gushed, outlining things we’d be able to do that we couldn’t do with the current platform.

Rob wasn’t responsible for our hostile reaction. At the same time, he didn’t understand that change entails loss. He was charged up about what we were about to gain and totally unaware that we were grieving over what we were about to lose. And that’s a mistake many people make in managing change.

Grieving is a process usually associated with death of a loved one. But grieving isn’t limited to death or to the loss of a person. And it’s not limited to loss in our personal lives. Grieving is equally relevant to loss in the workplace, such as the loss of security, familiar daily patterns, communication channels, friends who are terminated or transferred, and, especially, the loss of identity and a sense of belonging. With the loss of a technology platform, even one that at times drove us crazy, we were facing a loss of identity.

In fact, giving up almost anything you cherish is a form of loss, and that’s the case whether you give it up voluntarily or, as with this technology change, you have no say in the matter. Even something positive, such as a promotion or new job, can entail a feeling of loss because it means giving up familiar ways of doing work and the relationships associated with the previous job or position. In all these instances, people may need to grieve.

In a book I read, I was fascinated to learn about a South Seas Island language that has separate words for different varieties of loss:

  • Loss of a person by death, as we mean it in English.
  • Loss of a small object, which most likely has been replaced.
  • Loss of a large object, such as one that has been stolen or destroyed.
  • Loss of a situation or a way of life, such as your job or location.
  • Loss of a state of mind or state of being, such as loss of security, success, or happiness.

I don’t know which word the language would have used for a loss of both a way of life and a state of being, because that’s what our accustomed technology platform was to us.

About the author

Naomi Karten's picture Naomi Karten

Naomi Karten is a highly experienced speaker and seminar leader who draws from her psychology and IT backgrounds to help organizations improve customer satisfaction, manage change, and strengthen teamwork. She has delivered seminars and keynotes to more than 100,000 people internationally. Naomi's newest books are Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals and Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change. Her other books and ebooks include Managing Expectations, Communication Gaps and How to Close Them, and How to Survive, Excel and Advance as an Introvert. Readers have described her newsletter, Perceptions & Realities, as lively, informative, and a breath of fresh air. She is a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com. When not working, Naomi's passion is skiing deep powder. Contact her at naomi@nkarten.com or via her Web site, www.nkarten.com.

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