Let's face it: organizational change is uncomfortable and it is one of the reasons that it does not happen often enough even when there is clear evidence that without it our organization will not go to the next level of effectiveness. In the many years that I served as an organizational leader I had to personally deal with this uncomfortableness. In my years of consulting I have watched leaders struggle with the implications of necessary change because of its impact on them and the comfort of the status quo.
Organizations that remain static today quickly find their effectiveness erode. Changes in the marketplace, the size of the organization, the need to break through growth barriers or the necessity of trying new strategies all require change and the first barrier that must be overcome is the reluctance of leaders to embrace it.
Why would organizational leaders not embrace change that can help their organization become better and more effective? Change is uncomfortable! It means that we must move from comfort to discomfort. It means potential changes to our "turf" and how we are used to doing things. It can impact reporting relationships and therefor the "politics" of the organization (and all organizations have politics). It requires us to think about our work differently and often more strategically. All of these factors make change uncomfortable and unless leaders are able to overcome their discomfort they can be the barrier to organizational growth and effectiveness.
How then do we overcome our discomfort to change? It really goes to how we think about our work and about change.
First, it is OK to admit that change is simply hard. Often we resist change as leaders by arguing that it is not needed rather than just admitting that it makes us uncomfortable. Any major change needs to be prefaced by the fact that it will make us uncomfortable.
Second, we need to remember that our work is not about us but about the mission of the organization. If change is required to better fulfill our mission (and it will be) we embrace it because our commitment is not to our personal comfort but to the fulfilling of the mission of the organization. To resist change because of our own discomfort is to see our work as about us rather than about the mission we are committed to.
Third, we need to be willing to embrace uncertainty as to how the change will impact us. Here is another fact: There is uncertainty in change and until we get through the whitewater to the calm water on the other side we will need to live with uncertainty. But also recognize that our fears are rarely founded in reality: they are simply fears of the unknown that change brings. True leadership is about the ability to negotiate needed change for the good of the organization, not to guard our own comfort. Even when we try to understand the consequences of necessary change (which we should do) there will be implications that we do not foresee.
Fourth, as leaders we need to understand that change is good for us. It requires us to sharpen our thinking, our strategies, our assumptions and our ability to adapt to a changing world. Usually our resistance to change is about us while our willingness to embrace it is about the effectiveness of our work and the mission of the organization. Dealing with organizational change makes us better and sharper leaders.
Fifth, we need to think of change as innovation. That is what it is: innovation to increase our effectiveness. No company survives for long without innovation. If I view organizational change as a nuisance I will resist it. If I see it as innovation that will help the organization do what it does better I will more willingly embrace it. Innovation is always an ongoing process in any organization.
Notice that all of these five principles are about how we think about our work and our role as leaders. If we can change the way we think about change, that change will become easier.