Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thinking Differently About Change – “Letting Go”

image This article was written by Steve Day, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

In a prior newsletter article, I reviewed a different way to think about change. This different way, based on the book “Managing Transitions”, by William Bridges, begins with endings and ends with beginnings.

Endings, the “letting go” phase of the change process, is usually the most difficult part of change, so let’s focus on how we can help small business owners and employees let go of some baggage that may hold them back from successful change.

First of all, what do we mean by “baggage” in this context? Change baggage usually includes habits, relationships, environments, comfort zones, warm-and-fuzzies. Successful change doesn’t require letting go of everything, just those things that will block progress to a new beginning, a successful change. When you are assisting a person going through change, the best things you can do are to detect the baggage items, surface them, suggest ways to let go, and help people understand how letting go helps the change process.

Here are some things to keep in mind in these situations:

  • Be prepared for overreaction when helping people to let go. There will be emotions involved, and some people will find it very challenging to put aside ideas or habits that are in their comfort zone.
  • Expect some grieving, and let it happen. Grieving takes many different forms, and you may not see it first-hand. But if you’ve just told a person that a cherished idea of theirs probably won’t work, they may take it hard. Give them time and space. Also give them some alternatives to think about. Providing options is one of the most crucial things we do when trying to manage people’s reaction to change.
  • At all times, be respectful of the person’s ideas, especially if you must advise them to go in a different direction.
  • Help the client define what is really over, and what is not. Perhaps some aspects of their idea are unrealistic (money required, time required for implementation), and should either be put aside entirely or dramatically altered. But there may be pieces and parts that can be salvaged and form the nucleus for a different idea. Letting go is made easier when the person can take a piece of the old idea with them. It’s not always possible, but it can be meaningful to achieving successful endings.
  • Encourage future meetings and communicate often and informally to see how the person is doing with the endings phase of change, especially if they need to let go of some big baggage items and if you’ve given them some alternatives to think about/work on. Inviting a person going through change to come back for more discussion is a signal that we care about helping them work through the process.

All business owners and managers have significant experience with managing change, even when we didn’t know anything about Endings, Neutral Zones, or Beginnings. Many of our staffers and friends have no such experience. We can help them deal with the rough spots, one of which can be letting go.