The Change Cycle
“We’re installing WHAT???” Whether it is RFID, ebooks, or one of those new-fangled online catalogs, libraries need to understand and to allow the change cycle. An unknown sage once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent but rather the most responsive to change.”
People react predictably to change, and we need the time, space, and freedom to be able to complete the change cycle. Managers who gloss over the impact, who punish employees for not immediately embracing the change, actually prolong the change cycle or lose employees altogether.
In Stage 1, we feel loss, which translates to fear in most people (and hysteria in a few). “We have to cut our budget” immediately translates into, I’m going to lose my job. Sometimes it moves into, and then I’ll be homeless and have to eat bargain dog food; not even the good stuff that looks like stew, and . . . Even with good change, we feel that initial fear, if just for a second. “You just got a grant!” How much time is THAT going to take? It’s okay—it doesn’t mean that we hate change; it’s normal. To get through this stage, we need to analyze which fears are based on reality and which are not and determine that we can live with the worst-case scenario.
Stage 2 moves into doubt. Some people readily embrace this stage, otherwise known as the whiney stage. People display this griping or resistant behavior to try to maintain the perception of control. Again, this behavior is normal for a short while. To move out of this stage, we need to gather accurate information (not just what we hear the person on the cellphone in the bathroom say) so that we can start to understand the facts and reason for change.
In Stage 3, we work to process the change in our minds. Because this processing uses up our brain resources, we may feel dazed, exhausted, and confused. Some people are like this all the time, but that’s something different. During this largely cognitive stage, we commonly feel completely overwhelmed. Although less noticeable than Stage 2, this stage poses the most risk. We often lose people during this stage, or they get stuck and retreat back to an earlier stage. To move on to the next stage, we need to focus on intentionally taking the next action steps, no matter how tired and overwhelmed we feel.
Stage 4 signals the light at the end of the tunnel. We begin to feel energized and have a more realistic perspective. On a team, brainstorming begins to emerge, along with all of its possible options. We begin to anticipate the good that will come out of the change and work toward discovery. To move on to the next stage, we need to make decisions based on our various options and begin to act on those decisions.
During Stage 5, we execute the action steps of the change and apply all of the learning and processing from the previous steps. Most people can see both the short-term and long-term impact of the change by this stage and can accept it, regardless of whether we like the change or not. So close to the finish line, productivity soars as people start to see significant progress.
Finally, Stage 6 is a time of reflection, hopefully in a satisfied way. A sense of relief and confidence settles on the team. People often feel generous and celebratory. The danger in this stage lies in the temptation for teams to rest on their laurels. To become flexible, we need to avoid complacency and arrogance and be willing to change again. After all, “Our only security is our ability to change," according to scientist, writer, and inventor John Lilly.
Ann Clapp is Manager of Collection Development Programs, Ingram Library Services. firstname.lastname@example.org