So, change is in the air. Not sure if it’s me, or if it’s the snow that’s falling gently… tiny flakes drifting towards earth, taking their sweet time getting there.
If I didn’t have plenty of experience with “tiny snow” turning out to be a huge problem, I might be able to sit back and admire the sight with a “holidays are soon here” sigh of seasonal enjoyment.
The only thing is, tiny snow tends to be the most committed, most persistent, most challenging sort of snow that adds up to not inches, but feet — the drifting kind, too. The big flakes that fall quickly aren’t the problem. The fine stuff that takes its sweet time and seems to have no end, is what makes winter life in New England what it is.
Tiny snow is not unlike the tiny, everyday issues and stresses and uncertainties with organization change that gradually build up to large-scale burdens. They can manifest in myriad ways — tardiness, poor morale, hostilities between groups, attrition, even employees collapsing at the office and needing a call to the EMTs.
There’s not necessarily one thing you can put your finger on. And the stresses and strains may manifest in different ways with different people, with levels of sensitivity running the gamut of human experience. That can make it hard to not only pinpoint the sources of the issues in a suboptimal organization, but also figure out how best to deal with them.
But in a workplace where people are not only alienated but toxically disengaged to the point of not really caring how their activities impact their employer, doing nothing isn’t really an option.
Not that I haven’t seen it done. In my 25+ years in the workforce, working at a number of multinational corporations which experienced sweeping changes. From restructuring to reduction in force to stock splits to phasing out entire divisions, I’ve seen a ton of change. I’ve seen it done fairly well, and I’ve seen it done quite poorly, my measuring stick being the general atmosphere where I worked. It’s not the most scientific of metrics, but it sure as heck is palpable. When “things are bad” everybody knows it. You can almost taste it.
And yet, management so often has allowed things to just sit… doing nothing proactive to assist the workforce they’ve plunged into chaos, standing by while their “most valuable assets” are marinating in a biochemical acid bath, struggling to adapt and make sense of the changes without any orientation or assistance from the top.
Strange, how that happens. And stranger still, to see it happen over and over again, across different organizations in different locations, at different times in my career.
Fortunately, the field of change management has emerged, with an increasing number of practitioners offering their assistance. At the same time, the study of stress and trauma has emerged (in no small part thanks to the thousands of returning vets who bring a whopping case of PTSD back from battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq), and we know more than ever about how stress affects the physical body as well as the behaviors of the mind.
So, we’re starting to piece things together. Consultants are brought in, and experts are consulted, and surveys are taken. Which is all great and very needed. But once you have your explanations of what’s going on in the workplace that’s impacting bottom-line results, and once you have a plan of change management in place, how do you get it to take hold? How do you get the improvements to stick, half as well as the metaphorical tiny snow of incrementally destabilizing change?