Incremental change eases participants through transitions. BIG change—at the level complete upheaval—can feel like a sucker punch to the gut. How we respond to the demand of big change determines whether we just survive or thrive through the experience.
Clients I work with are often facing or seeking change; there’s value and comfort in knowing they will succeed in navigating the process. While I’ve lead large-scale organizational change, involving millions of dollars in moving parts and multiple stakeholders, a personal experience highlights six demands of BIG change. I recently moved my family and business from the west coast to the east coast.
Referring to this as my 4-3-2-1 transition, I juggled four property transactions, in three cities and two states, with one requiring probate. With a senior parent, the plan involved integrating two separate households into one. We also had to transport three cars, a truck, a boat, and four pets. And all the sorting and packing took place in a six-week window. That was just the beginning.
Six ways to thrive, not just survive, upheaval
- Understand the “what is” or current state.
In my corporate change leadership, getting a complete picture of the current state involved gathering data, mapping work flow, and tapping the collective experiences, needs, and talents of all stakeholders. Being clear on the “what is” facilitates decisions that lead to the desired state.
Our move “what is” involved the physical inventory of two homes (each with three car garages) and maps of the space of the new house with a single set of three car garage stalls. We had to quickly determine what would fit where, and disposition items that wouldn’t fit. I partnered with agents in three cities to document estimated values of all properties and what was needed to complete transactions. I sorted mounds of mom’s accumulated papers and files.
Equally important was understanding each person’s needs relating to the move. My mother would be modifying her independence, an adult son and husband would each leave jobs, and my coaching practice would transition across the country.
- Plan an order of operations.
In organizational change, as with any project, identifying a critical path clarifies what can occur in parallel and tasks that must be sequenced. Order of operations surfaces what resources will be needed and when.
Having a plan during the move enabled us to anticipate uncertainties and consider “if, then” responses. At the highest level, we had sell property one, purchase property two, sell properties three and then four as our sequence. Overlapping were the pack-clear-prep for sale properties three (then four) and the related dominoes for the physical move of belongings, vehicles, pets, and people.
Additionally, we needed to layer in maintaining or turning on services for each property, and any corresponding shut offs. I had a notebook to log the packing, list donations, and keep key contact info in one place. I also set up an accordion file for organizing the physical paperwork for each property and had a matching set of folders on my laptop. I kept these with me throughout the process.
- Overcome barriers
Major organizational change efforts require identifying and addressing barriers. As an example, migrating business, financial, procurement, and manufacturing systems involve deciding and preparing the data, equipping people to work with a new system while keeping the legacy systems operational, and determining the cut-over. Sometimes barriers can be managed through tradeoffs, other times we must overcome. The pace of change often generates resistance—an “overcome” barrier; planning must involve managing the acceptance, attitudes, and capabilities of the workforce in order to succeed.
When the inevitable time to help a parent deal with a lifetime of treasures comes, recognize you’ll often face time pressures. A few items were easy decisions. A multitude were not; every item had an associated story. This barrier to our move required both a tradeoff and overcoming.
I was the only person who’d actually seen the new house—I’d picked it out on a business trip—and could mentally translate the flooring diagram to realities for placement of goods. What I originally designated as “the library” in the new house became the “dish room.” I emptied walls of 8’ high bookcases from my own home that would have been packed, and arranged a massive donation.
The idea of the dish room was hard for everyone to conceive, and mom was dubious until everything now stored and displayed there was fully unpacked and in place. We may not live in the White House, but we have our own dish room. Mom’s needs were met.
- Accept the unexpected will happen.
Surprises will occur. In our case, working with a builder long distance meant I had no idea the new home would be delivered without towel bars or toilet paper dispensers. And “wireless equipped” literally meant no CAT5 or cable drops in my office. Which meant my networked printer wasn’t. Fencing contractors did not respond with any sense of urgency. As the unexpected popped up, we’d knock the challenge down. Amazon, Lowes, Home Depot, Best Buy, and Office Depot LOVE us.
Not all unexpected events require expending funds, but planning for unexpected items in a change budget supports fast decisions when the pressure is on.
- Change involves a physical demand.
Even without packing and moving, big change has a physical impact. Longer hours, competing demands, challenges arriving at the rate of rapid-fire all create stressors to be acknowledged and dealt with. People will be out of sorts; relationships will be strained.
Humans have the capacity to manage stress with coping mechanisms. When helpers packed my wine opener, I borrowed from a neighbor. When the coffeemaker disappeared, trips to Starbuck supplied me with caffeine. Making sure surges were balanced by rest, people given space to make adjustments, and assuring opportunities to decompress helped the family accommodate the physical demands.
- Change impacts systems and routines.
Whether transition is corporate or home based, systems and routines often change. New equipment, software, financial institutions, or changing vendors, for example, have corresponding changes for teams in terms of learning and process.
The impact might be temporary, such as daily work outs put on hold while driving vehicles 2,500 miles. In an organization, establishing temporary work-arounds during change offer practical solutions. We packed temporary supplies of medications; we stayed in temporary housing; our assorted pets adjusted to life on a leash until we could fence our yard. Our routines weren’t just interrupted, these were blown apart for a period of time.
More permanent changes ranged from simple organizing the new kitchen for optimal flow to more complex decisions around choosing and establishing health care. For LEADistics, system and routine changes involved structural and licensing requirements of the new state, forming new networks and business connections, reorienting business routines around a different time zone, and changes to business processes and data systems, to name a few.
The key is to recognize when a trusted, previously supportive system no longer smoothly functions in the change environment. Consider whether systems and routines can be adapted, or whether these must be replaced through temporary substitution or permanent solutions.
BIG change—professional or personal, organizational or individual—offers great reward. Such transitions also surface myriad demands. Planning and addressing each challenge facilitates successful navigation through the upheaval often accompanies big change. Are you facing or seeking change? Lean in. The outcome rocks. We’re all settled in our new home, and I watch the sunrise over the river each morning. Just don’t peek into the garage; I’m not quite done in there.
What BIG change are you facing or seeking in your life or work? Is something missing from my list that would help others with a similar transition?
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