Taking the fear out of change

Change: It’s amazing how a single word can both excite and terrify us. Moving house, changing jobs, getting married — these are all changes that most of us will encounter at least once in our lives.

If history has shown us anything, it’s that without change, we cannot grow as individuals or as a society.

“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable” — William Pollard

BUT….Change is scary. Abandoning what we know and are accustomed to is one of life’s biggest anxieties. It’s the reason that people stay together when they both know that they have no future. It’s the reason you stay at the job you hate with the boss you despise, because it’s ‘steady’. And it all boils down to a fear that whilst the grass may seem greener, it may in fact all be a mirage.

But consider this, what if that well-paid job that you dread going to everyday is not that secure?

In his book ‘Disrupt Yourself’, Jay Samit boldly states: ‘Security doesn’t rob ambition; the illusion of security robs ambition’.

It’s true. In today’s world, disruption is around every corner. For some of us, it’s closer than we even know. Technology has fundamentally changed the way we work and live, and will continue to do so over the next generation. Driverless cars and the Digital Marketplace are just a small part of the first wave of significant change.

So the challenge therefore is to build a tolerance to uncertainty, and a process to manage change. Here are some of my thoughts:

Change Yourself. Then support others to change.

One thing I have found is that if you can change yourself, you can empower others to change too. There is no better guinea pig than you. Personal experiences and anecdotes underpin your growth, and subsequently the way you coach others to grow too.

Personal Development and Continuous Improvement are agile principles; to successfully grow you must first decide on your course of action and plan a way forward, then implement and continually test this approach, fix the bugs, and test again. The cycle never stops, and we should constantly be finding new areas to practice this approach both in our lives and in our work.

I’ve become accustomed to change; I have lived in 24 houses across the UK, became the first person in my family to leave Wales for University, and even lived in Australia for a period of time. These changes have provoked feelings of huge excitement and deep anxiety, oftentimes in parallel.

By using this constant test-and-fix approach, I have been able to manage the changes and gain control of my own feelings, even if I couldn’t always control the situation.

How do you take the fear out of change?

That is ultimately the billion-dollar question for multinational organisations. It will hold equitable value in non-financial terms for you too.

In truth, you will likely never remove all fear from change, and nor should you — nerves and fear, when used in the right way, can be extremely productive feelings. They can keep you sharp, focussed and on your mettle.

However, to ensure that we are prepared for change, here are five simple steps that I have used:

One. Acknowledge when it’s time to make a change.

This is the hardest and most critical step in change management. Understanding and admitting to yourself that a change is required can be very difficult, particularly when it comes to your personal life. This single change might be life-changing, but to shy away from making it is doing a great disservice to yourself.

In your working life you often build loyalty to friends and colleagues over the actual role that you perform. Your tipping point may not be as dramatic as one in your personal life: it may be a series of incidents and your need for change may come from one very small and somewhat insignificant event that validates your feelings of wanting out.

In business, there is always an ‘Opportunity Cost’ to consider in decision-making; acknowledging and addressing this is key to understand the direction of the company in the future. For Kodak, the choice not to fully commit to Digital Cameras (even though they developed the technology) to milk the remaining value out of their existing operations was an opportunity cost that ultimately led to the downfall of the once Global Leader. Kodak’s management had all the evidence and the added benefit of owning a product, but refused to acknowledge that it was time to change. By the time they finally admitted that a change was needed, it was too late; their competitors had made the necessary changes and embraced the digital age.

We are not always so lucky to have the solution laid out in front of us. If we do, the list of excuses not to change quickly dwindles.

One reason that we sometimes shy away from change is that we see it as a product of failure; i.e. we must have failed to need to change. This is not true — some relationships run their natural course and both parties separate amicably to follow different paths, we may outgrow our position at a company and opt for new pastures where development opportunities are better, or a business might serve a purpose for a period of time and close its doors having made more money for its owners than ever imagined.

Just because you’ve admitted you need to change, it doesn’t mean you have failed.

And so the key message of this is to always maintain Self-awareness.
Understand what your limit is and when you’ve made the decision to change, don’t look back.

Two. Understand your market

When you have acknowledged that you need to change, it’s time to consider what is next for you. Take time to understand your market.

By this I mean to look within and be very honest with yourself. This helps you disseminate the options and opportunities that you can create and that are available to you.

Look inward to look outward.

Firstly, consider this question: what are your passions or what is your mission?
Understanding what you are truly passionate about and what your goals are in life will help you shape the change. If you don’t have these, the chances are that you will be stuck in a constant change loop as you search for happiness.

Second, consider these questions: what are your key strengths? and more importantly your key areas of development?
This is where honesty really is critical. Evaluating what you are good at will help identify career paths, build new relationships, and develop strategies for success in business.

Identifying what you need to work on is key; what do you want or need to change about yourself or your organisation to achieve your goals? 
- Do you need to retrain in a new field? 
- Bring in new staff to support your mission? 
- or maybe you need to change your lifestyle to open opportunities for you to meet new people.

When you know these things, you can look outwards and see where this fits in the world.

Three. Plan and Execute

Spur-of-the-moment changes often backfire because they are impulsive and lack fundamental planning. To make true and lasting changes, consideration must be given to three things:

  • Why you are doing it.
  • What you want to achieve.
  • How you will go about doing it.

If you are considering moving jobs, you need to understand why you are leaving your current position. Ask yourself what you want from your new position that you aren’t currently getting. Finally, consider how are you going to find this new job.

When you have this plan, execute on it. Don’t wait. The longer you wait, the longer the illusion of security will draw you back in.

Four. Persevere

Change is hard. When we first attempt change, we may see and feel negative consequences — it is at this early stage that we must try even harder to resist returning to old ways.

Think back to the previous stages and consider all of the work you have done to prepare and execute this change. Just because things aren’t going your way now, it doesn’t mean that it will be this way forever.

Perseverance is your best friend and your worst enemy. You may find that things aren’t working and you need to make some minor fixes. That’s fine. Make these fixes and continue on.

Remember, there’s a distinct difference between Failing and Failure… You can continue to fail for most of your life, but you only become a failure when you give up.

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything innovative”— Woody Allen

Change requires Thought. Change requires Innovation. Change requires Courage. Above all, Change requires Perseverance.

Five. Reflect & Evaluate

The final step. When you have made this change, take some time to reflect. Ask yourself:

  • Have I achieved what I set out to?
  • How am I feeling now that I have made this change?
  • What were the most enjoyable parts of this?
  • What were the most difficult parts?

Note down some of your thoughts in a journal and refer back to them at a later date — you may remember the broad feelings you experienced during any change, but writing them in detail now will show you the journey you have been on later. This can be extremely powerful both for yourself and others.

When you come to change something again, your observations and lessons become your bible.

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I spent a lot of time thinking about this, reading pieces from authors I respect greatly (including on Medium), writing and re-writing this story. What I have written is what I truly believe to be a process that can support you in managing the relevant changes in your life/work/business.

Whether you choose to adopt the five steps or not, I encourage you to consider the principles upon which this sits, and continue to develop and grow these to fit your own preferences and approach. If you can do that, you will always be equipped for change.

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Ponder points: 
Do you have an approach to change that’s tried and tested? 
What areas do you think that you need to embrace or activate change?