When change comes to town, it seems to divide people into two camps: victims and villains. Those who precipitated the change are often the bad guys of the situation. And everyone else seems to be warily looking for their name on the chopping block. Change has the same effect on businesses, which is why mergers and other structural shake-ups can be so damaging to morale and productivity.
But they don’t have to be. While reading Sharon Melnick’s new book, Success Under Stress: Powerful Tools for Staying Calm, Confident, and Productive When the Pressure’s On, I came across her seemingly stellar exercise for people who are going through this kind of flux. It’s called “WIN at Change.” While it is intended for the individual, I think that brokers, managers and leaders of all kinds could benefit from it.
The exercise is predicated on Melnick’s theory that if you take responsibility for your 50 percent of any given situation, your stress level will decrease, as you’re holding up your end of the bargain with the understanding that you can’t do it all. I think that’s a key component to this exercise, and I think managers would do well to mention that ideal as an introduction to the exercise. As Melnick says, “It’s tempting to comment negatively on other peoples’ decision or to be fearful of the uncertainty, but the way to stay productive is by managing yourself” (emphasis hers). If nothing else, it should quiet detractors long enough to get through the exercise!
So, here’s what you do. Gather all the stakeholders and hand them two pieces of paper. The first one should be split into thirds, and the second one blank. Here’s your script:
- In the first column, I want you to write down each of the implications of this change (or merger, or new organizational system, etc.) for yourself and your unique role within our company. Write them out separately.
- In the second column, write how each of these implications makes you feel. What is your gut reaction?
- In the third column, write a plan of action that details how you can deal with these implications and your reactions to them from columns one and two. Will you prioritize differently? What actions can you take? What can you control?
- On the second sheet of paper, write your new learning plan. What skills, support, and resources will you need to have in order to carry out the plan in column three? How can I—and other colleagues—help you achieve your goals in these areas? Are there resources outside of the organization—such as a coach or mentor—you would tap?
Melnick notes that one of the ideas behind this exercise is to foster what psychology professor and motivation researcher Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset.” If your agents feel like their skill set is a fixed thing and what they don’t do well is a threatening list, well of course change is going to be difficult, and of course they’re going to feel left behind.
But with a “growth mindset,” they’ll feel like they can learn new things and take control for their role in the situation. And what pairs better with change than growth?