Taming the Turbulence of Change


To truly reduce the turbulence of change, you may first need to simply accept that turbulence is coming, instead of trying to prevent it. By understanding that everyone responds differently to change, and allowing for a period of turbulence, you'll enable everyone to move more quickly past it.

When I gave a keynote presentation on managing change to a ballroom’s worth of project managers, I asked them what disruptive changes they’ve experienced at work. The list, alas, was long: Reorganizations, project cancellations, promotions, new technology, priority changes, management shake-ups, new policies, staff changes, a move to another building, and more. No doubt, you could add to this list.

The reality is that almost any change — or even just a rumor of a change — can create turbulence, a state that may entail commotion, confusion, turmoil, disorder, unrest, instability, hurly-burly, uproar (all synonyms for turbulence) — as well as chaos, insecurity, pandemonium, upheaval, disarray, bedlam, disruption and hubbub (synonyms of the synonyms).

In coping with change, you might feel like you’ve been whacked in the head, punched in the stomach, or turned topsy-turvy. You might become preoccupied, absent-minded, forgetful, distracted or fatigued, and you might experience shock, anxiety, fear, anger or uncertainty. You might feel like you’re on a runaway roller coaster even when the turbulence is triggered by a positive change -- win the jackpot in the lottery and you’ll see!

Turbulence in response to change is N-O-R-M-A-L

As I stressed in my book, Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change, turbulence in response to change is absolutely normal. And adjustment takes time. But if you’re overseeing a change, you have some control over how long the turbulence will last because how you communicate with those affected can significantly decrease — or increase — the duration and intensity of that turbulence.

For example, you’ll increase the duration and intensity of the turbulence if you:

    • Unreasonably prod people to “get on with it already.”
    • Withhold information about what’s happening.
    • Find fault with people who make mistakes while adjusting to the new way.
    • Refuse to accept that there may be a temporary drop in productivity as people adjust.
    • Focus entirely on the technical aspects of the change, ignoring the human aspects.

Conversely, if you want to reduce the duration and intensity of the turbulence, you’ll:

    • Keep people informed about what’s happening.
    • Treat the old way with respect, recognizing that it was a place of relative comfort.
    • Empathize with the concerns of those affected by the change
    • Acknowledge progress and even small successes.
    • Build trust before introducing the change so that those affected will be open to your ideas and advice once they’re in that turbulent state.

This is not to say you should give people all the time in the world to adjust. After all, you still have deadlines to meet and goals to achieve. But by appreciating that coping with change is a human experience, you’ll find it easier to manage the tumultuous turbulence.


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