Change Doesn’t Play by the Rules.


iStock_000005310903MediumWe know this… Yet it seems to be one of the lessons we have to learn over and over and over and over again.

When it comes to big change, there are a very clear set of principles that we can apply. Things like:

  • Whether the change is perceived as positive or negative, there will be resistance; during large-scale change resistance is critical to building commitment.
  • Commitment must be orchestrated over time.
  • It is essential that you focus both on putting the things needed for success in place, and on making the necessary shifts in thinking and behaviors.
  • Sponsorship is based on who people look to for communications and consequences related to a specific change; it cannot be assigned

There are dozens of others; if you flip through my blog posts you will see them spelled out and illustrated.

But it is important to remember…these are principles, not rules. Change doesn’t unfold neatly. It doesn’t proceed according to plan. Methodologies can be directionally correct, but don’t let that fool you into attempting to follow them blindly.

You will make mistakes; it is inevitable. Decisions have to be made in the absence of adequate information; some of them will be wrong. “Fess up,” and make the necessary adjustments, the sooner the better. (Ironically, you may have to acknowledge the mistake even though you have inadequate information to be sure you are on the wrong track.)

You will be distracted. There are a lot of “bright, shiny objects” that can easily catch your attention. And, there will be unanticipated crises that will do likewise. Be careful; it’s easy for the change to “go off the rails” when this happens.

When faced with distractions, acknowledge them and let them go.

When faced with crisis, evaluate it in the context of the change. Whatever your role in the change, you cannot delegate it. Do you need to slow the change down; to defer decisions and/or actions, to redeploy resources? You may need to decide these things and act on them quickly… But decide and act, don’t default.

You will be worn down. Change drains us emotionally, physically, mentally. Be ready! Ensure that the others who are taking the journey are ready as well!

In 2007 I completed a Himalayan pilgrimage with several others from my yoga studio. This was to be a major change from my life in metropolitan New York City in many ways. It was planned as a series of treks requiring camping, with nights in between spent in guest houses. Our first trek took us from Hanuman chatti to Dodital and on to Sangam chatti. On the second day of this trek I wrote, “Sometimes, the only thought can be, Where do I plant my trekking pole? Where do I take my next step? Where do I plant my pole for the support that I need, and so it doesn’t become wedged? Where do I plant my foot so there is a place to plant my next foot. Even these thoughts sometimes just skim the consciousness.”

I had prepared in the gym for months. But I also prepared on the yoga mat, on my prayer/meditation bench, through reading, and in reflection.

Our journey had a series of planned “plateaus,” those evenings spent in guest houses. When we completed this first trek of three days, four of the twelve announced that they were leaving. While the reasons they gave varied, the reality was that they were not prepared emotionally, physically, and mentally for the challenges of this change. They spent the remainder of their time in India at a spa, an experience that was far less challenging–and far less of a change–than the remainder of us experienced.

Prepare, prepare those around you, and plan for the plateaus. Know where you are going…not just in your head, but in your heart and in your gut. Big change journeys, just like a Himalayan pilgrimage, will test you and all who are traveling with you. The ability to call on your internalized experience of the destination will help sustain you along the way. Prepare. Then let go of your expectations, and be present to the reality that unfolds.

What do you do to prepare for your change journeys?



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