5 Change Management Tips For Individuals

Posted: Oct. 12, 2021, 2 p.m.

5 Change Management Tips For Individuals

If there’s one thing you can always rely on, it’s change. And while change has its many pros and cons, it can be harder to navigate when you’re the one having to accept the change, not the one initiating the change. But, navigating change and managing your response is a skill that will take you far in your career. These 5 best practices will help you to go with the flow and wield organizational change to your advantage. It’s all about adapting quickly, understanding what is (and isn’t) in your control, and showing your bosses that you are a can-do, make-it-happen team player. 

     1. Embrace The Change

First, realize that change is going to happen. It can be slow and incremental or happen all at once.  If you go forward understanding that it is inevitable, it can be easier to embrace. Next, recognize that resistance to change is normal and you are not alone. This can set you up to be a champion for the idea of change and help positively impact those around you and  can set you up as a valuable employee to your managers. Additionally, helping get other people aligned can be a real boost to your team. Look for opportunities for learning and educate yourself about the new initiatives, whether it be new software, policy, etc. Look for ways past roadblocks and don’t be the person to moan and groan when something goes wrong. If you can go to your boss with potential solutions instead of just problems, you will feel more in control and they will likely be more willing to listen. Finally, stay positive- good things are likely on the horizon. 

     2. Understand Where the Change Comes From 

Humans have a tendency to see intent where there isn’t any intention. I have seen this when talking about difficult people, difficult situations, and organizational change. Anything that has a perceived negative impact is often associated with negative intent. When your boss isn’t very talkative, you might think she is angry about something. Or when your colleague doesn’t fill you in, you might assume they are leaving you out on purpose. But the vast majority of people want to be liked, want to be helpful, and want to be seen as competent -- there’s often no negative intent at all and the same idea goes for organizational change. Even the policies or laws that seem the most misguided probably started with someone trying to make things better. If you can try to understand where the change is coming from -- and why -- it can often help you find ways to manage the transition better. Look for the intent to lessen the negative impact. Even if the outcome is less than ideal, being able to see why the changes were made can make it easier to manage at a psychological level. Once you know the intent, look for ways to adjust your behavior or attitude as an opportunity to exhibit great problem-solving skills. The closer you can get to the source of the change, the better you’ll be at assessing the intent behind the change. And when you have a grip on what problems need to be solved, see what you can do, personally, to make that happen. 

     3. The Locus Of Control 

Developed in 1954 by Julian Rotter, the concept of locus of control looks at whether people believe they have control over what happens to them or whether the outcomes in their lives are based on external forces. What Rotter’s research shows us about the locus of control is that the higher your internal locus of control is, the happier you'll be, the more optimistic you'll be, and the more likely you will be to perform well in your job. And if we look at the other side, those who feel like there's an external locus of control tend to have higher stress and thus higher rates of illness. This is a common issue when people feel like change is being thrust upon them. It can lead to an external locus of control. Here is a method for how to reframe your perception to see change as something under your internal control. First, realize that most things are outside of your control - You can’t control the vast majority of things. Pandemics, what the federal government is going to do, the weather, other people… but sometimes you can get caught up in worrying about all of that. More people need to listen to my grandfather who used to say there's never a reason to worry because either you can do something --- so find out what that is and do it --- or you can't do anything so you need to decide how to manage it.

Next, you need to make a list of what is really in your control and what is not. Dr. Stephen Covey's classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People outlines this concept by having you identify your Circle of concern vs. circle of control.  Your circle of concern is wide -- it’s all the things that you are concerned about. The circle of control is much smaller -- it’s all the thing you can directly influence. Start by drawing a big circle and listing some of the things you feel are outside of your control during an organizational change -- your salary, an office location, your coworkers, etc. List some of those out, but don't get too deep into it. Then, draw a circle within that circle -- write down some of the things you can control - you can control your reaction, maybe it's a matter of controlling where you go for information, or what you can learn about. If you can get some of those things on paper, you are likely to start feeling a little bit more control over your life and a little bit more control over whatever organizational change you are facing. This should give you a more positive perspective and outlook. So instead of wasting your energy on things you can’t control, focus on what you can control and stay positive. 

     4. Focus on the Future

One of the best ways you can manage being on the receiving end of organizational change is to keep focused on the future. This can help you manage change better and you can use this as a tool to help those around you stay positive and forward-focused as well. Some attention to the past can be useful - especially if it’s to identify the positive intent behind the change (as hard as that can be to identify sometimes). But dwelling on the past, trying to assign blame will just end up in a negative spiral that does nothing to help you move forward. It can be a bummer when your routines are uprooted, your teams are changed, and your work is disrupted, but generally, you are not going to be able to go back to the way things were. Instead,  look for ways that you can adapt to the change while keeping your energy focused on the future and the success of you and your team - determining the best path forward. However, if the change really does negatively impact your life in a way that is untenable, it may be time to look elsewhere for that future success.

Once you can keep your eyes focused on the future it's important to keep that focus. When others around you have a negative view and continually voice it, it can be easy to get caught up in the rumor mill and complaints and the grumbling. If you allow yourself to become part of that you'll have a much harder time looking for the positives that move you forward. You will have a harder time identifying ways to be successful. So, align yourself with people who have a positive attitude and those who are solution-oriented. 

     5. Find Your Voice

You have the right to be heard, your voice is important, your experience has value. Even highly experienced leaders sometimes don’t speak up when inside they feel they should. Assertiveness is about engaging with others as your true self and not staying quiet when you have something important to say.  Speaking up can be particularly challenging when change is imposed upon you and you feel overwhelmed or like your voice is not being asked for. But it is exactly these times that you should work to make yourself heard. Recognize that being assertive is not the same as being aggressive, finding your voice does not mean silencing others. Being assertive is a balance that recognizes the value of your contribution, your thoughts, and your needs, and balancing that against the contributions, thoughts, and needs of others.  So if you need to speak up to your manager, consider framing your concerns in the context of the team’s or the company’s needs and initiatives. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the decision-makers -- consider their thoughts and needs. Think about WHY the organizational change is happening. Also, consider your thoughts and needs. Where can you shed some light on what management might not be seeing? Use your voice to give management a fuller picture of how the change is impacting the team. Next, create a positive inner dialogue. Tell yourself you are amazing and will make it through the change.

If you are in the midst of organizational change, or staring down an unknown path, or just leaving behind your comfort zone, you have a zillion opportunities ahead of you. And that’s a GOOD thing! Embracing and adapting to change is what makes us resilient people and great employees and teammates. So I encourage you to stay positive and look for the good that can come from a change-up -- even if it feels like it’s not your choice. Stay positive and focus on what YOU can do. I also encourage you to check out my Linked In Learning course, Change Management Tips for Individuals, which will cover these five tips in more depth.