Using the Cycle of Change

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How to make change go well!

In some areas of our lives we are being led into change and in other areas we are the change leaders. At work we are often led into change while at home or in the church we may be the person leading the change. The cycle of change clearly indicates how to do change well and how to ensure that it will go poorly. You have probably had the experience of poorly led change. Poorly led change occurs when some one presents you with a solution to a problem that you did not know you had while expecting you to fully embrace and implement the solution.

Leading Change at Home

Let’s look at an example of a change where you are the change agent.

Using the cycle of change you begin with the random incidents of sensing that, "Something’s up?" In reading newspapers and magazines you have noticed many articles about the poor quality of the American diet, especially, the high fat content. After watching an evening television news report you are struck by the fact that your family’s diet is also very high in fat. You are able to very clearly state the now seen problem and opportunity: "The family needs a new diet."

Having stated the problem, you begin planning the solution. New food choices are required. On the next visit to the grocery store you buy only low fat products. You get several soy bean and grain products that are meat substitutes and also return with many new and exotic fruits and vegetables. Having acquired the food you implement your solution by preparing it for the very next evening meal. When your family comes to the table they are greeted with an array of never before seen food. Poking and prodding the dishes they hesitantly ask what it is. When you tell them there is much resistance and rebellion as they proclaim no one asked for this and no one wants it.

Change has stalled because you offered your family a solution to a problem that they did not know they had. On the cycle of change you were too far ahead of them. Change is destined to go poorly when the change leader is out of sync with those being led. For change to have a better chance of success everyone needs to understand the problem before the solution is presented. The change leader’s task is to sell the problem and not the solution.

To be successful in changing your family’s diet try gathering them at step two of the change cycle. Even better, try to get them to recognize the signs of a need to change so they can help formulate the problem. When you begin to notice those articles on the poor American diet pass them along to others. Ask if they have seen similar information at school or work (Step One). At a family meeting you could discuss the information. As a group you decide that your diet has to much fat (Step Two) and you make plans for a change (Step Three). The family agrees to go shopping together and everyone chooses healthier food which they would like to try. Everyone participates in the preparation of the food (Step Four) and when it is placed on the table there is a much better chance of successful change. As a group the family goes around the cycle of change learning that the change is good (Step Five) and they are headed towards a new normality in dietary habits (Step Six).

Leading Change at Work

In many settings, especially, institutional and work, change seems to be typically initiated at Step Four. How many times have you come to work and been told of a new change that was essentially a solution to a problem that you did not know that you had. The change was hard to accept because you did not know the reasons for it. Also, you may have seen some very real problems with the change. From your frontline position you knew of several reasons why the proposed change would not work but your input in planning was not solicited.

What has most likely happened is that one person observed some random incidents and sensed that, "Something’s up?" This person recognized a problem or opportunity and then made plans on his own for what needed to be done. Once he had the plan it was announced to you and your co-workers who had not yet even sensed that, "Something’s up?" The change makes no sense in the absence of a problem. (If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.) If you had known of a problem then your ideas may have been helpful in designing a workable solution.

Following the Change Cycle

Change works best when the change cycle is intentionally followed.

In the ideal work situation everyone in the organization is scanning for random incidents of coming change in a wide variety of areas. This information is frequently shared and discussed by many people so that there can be an early identification and consensus regarding problems and opportunities.

Once the situation can be clearly stated then action planning begins and utilizes diverse work teams with all levels of personnel to determine what need to happen, how, and when. This diverse approach ensures all levels of the issue can be addressed.

When such a well developed plan is implemented there is general support for it because many workers understand the reasons for change and actually helped plan it. With encouragement for identifying unforeseen problems of implementation, feedback is well received and positively acted upon so necessary adjustments can be made.

Over time there develops the sense that we can do this and eventually there is a return to normal. Once again the scanning for signs of coming change occurs.

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