The fear of change comes from our natural suspicion of the unknown or of things we don’t understand. When we stop being purely reactionary and become
rational beings (at about 9 I think) we immediately begin to develop techniques to protect ourselves. We develop (some will argue from an even earlier age) our success
formula. These are standards of behaviour or perspectives on situations that we learn will give us our desired optimum result. To walk away from our own success and do
something unfamiliar is a very onerous task. Hopefully we can, however, realise that the risk of not being able to change in a time when everything around us is moving and
shifting will lead us to even bigger problems in the future. With the future rushing toward us at a faster pace than ever before, to be unable to change and seek a new
perspective, or not try to understand what we have previously ignored, is not only intellectually unsound its downright stupidity (with respect).
As there are no signposts, road rules or speed limits in the infinite unknown and the risks seem to be enormous, how can we cope with (if not drive out)
the fear? The old clich้ that “familiarity breeds contempt” is a good place to start. The military uses this principle to train troops and it obviously works. The
more we practice a skill, on how to cope in an unfamiliar or fearful situation, the better chance we have of making our response to it automatic. If you need to think about
what to do you will be lost. Example: try to hit a tennis ball while thinking about it consciously... you can’t it has to be a reaction. Think of the unknowns, speed,
curvature, trajectory, spin, bounce, deceleration rate, angle of deflection, racquet speed, string tension, etc., etc., all unknowns. How do the best performers cope with or
in fact thrive with all these unknowns? Practice, practice, practice.
Much as soldiers need to learn to perform under stress, so must we. Business is a war after all. The other point is that under stress we are most likely
not to ‘be all we can be’, as the US army puts it, so we must react automatically based on a practiced ritual of behaviour. Also, practice can be ‘mental’, as our
subconscious can’t differentiate between imagined and real experience. Reactions are subconscious so we can and should start by imagining ourselves doing well in unfamiliar
Honesty will also help reduce fear. In the 2000 US presidential elections both candidates have talked openly about embarrassing issues, personal
shortcomings and past indiscretions. Why? To remove the fear of being exposed. They are seen now, I suggest, by the voting public as men of integrity. We need to own up to
our personal shortcomings and difficulties if we are to free ourselves of our personal guilt over our imperfect past. If anyone has a perfect past I suggest you head for Rome
immediately, there’s someone there that wants to meet you.
This honesty needs to extend to our feelings as well as our actions. A willingness to express our feelings about a situation should not be that hard. As
managers we are trained to constantly express our feelings about the performance of those we lead. Why not manage upward and start to express our feelings about situations
created by those we follow? Being judgemental or critical will evoke a natural and often distasteful result and is to be avoided.
We are, however, all entitled to have feelings about situations. Anyone who is a manager and has had training in giving feedback (a critical management
competence) knows the value of this instinctively. If you work in a place where feelings are discouraged, all the change management techniques in the world will not help and
you should make the ultimate change... seek employment elsewhere. Why? Because your organization is probably on the way out. Sometimes being tired, scared, de-motivated or
disappointed really is a natural part of the reality of working for a living; we just need to admit it.
More fearful thoughts next week.
You can email Richard at email@example.com or visit his web site at http://www.orglearn.org