Let’s Change the Change Paradigm

“We, as humans, are built for positive disruption.”

That’s how a speaker at a recent virtual conference described change.

Is that how you think about change and disruption?

At about the same time, I read an article in Talent Quarterly by Joe Folkman about research into the push and pull approaches to leading change. When leaders use the push approach, they set a target, and create stretch goals. They then initiate new processes and procedures, and hold people accountable with incentives and discipline. In the pull approach, leaders articulate a north star – a vivid picture of the future. They engage people to adopt it as their goal and lift their aspirations to achieve it. Positive reinforcement helps the organization to accomplish the goal. Until now, I think we’ve relied too heavily on push and too little on pull.

Together, these two thought leaders confirmed something I’ve thought about for a while now. We need to change the change paradigm.

  • We currently define how we think about change into a few common phrases.  Change is hard. People resist change. Change is overwhelming. Change is scary, even when it’s good for us.
  • For decades, we’ve talked about the change acceptance curve  – awareness, questioning, despair, acceptance and, finally, commitment. The curve reinforces those ideas of change being hard and representing loss rather than representing growth and opportunity.
  • I recommend we take the change curve and, literally, flip it on its head, changing the language we use to talk about change.
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This re-envisioned change curve looks at change as growth. When we are learning – experiencing that positive disruption I talked about – we are motivated to master the new rather than pine for the past. For example, when we start walking we don’t look back and miss when we were only able to crawl. When we learn to drive a car we don’t fondly think, “Oh I wish I could go back to only knowing how to ride a bike.” We see change as additive instead of the loss of what we had before.

We start at a place of inexperience.  Because we are inexperienced, we need information, support and encouragement. We need the opportunity to “try things on” and have some ownership of how we integrate the new way into our work and our lives. We see that the end is a worthwhile place to be and we pursue it.

In this paradigm, change is something we embrace and seek. Even when we make mistakes, when the change doesn’t work as anticipated, or we hit roadblocks, it doesn’t mean the change is bad. It doesn’t cause us to stop changing. Go back to the bike analogy. When we are riding our bike too close to a curb, hit the curb and fall off, we don’t decide to never ride a bike again. We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, get back on the bike and ride… knowing that next time we’ll avoid that obstacle.

When we think about change this way, we become engaged. We are achieving successes – sometimes small, sometimes large – which are motivating us to pursue more success.  We actively seek out additional opportunities to gain more experience, experiment, and learn. We see value in this new way.

In mastery, what was the change is now completely the normal. And, when we stay at mastery too long, we get bored and it’s time to pursue something that brings us back to that feeling of growth and learning.

And that’s the new paradigm – that we see change first and foremost as growth and opportunity and that when we, as leaders, engage people in that way, change is interesting, exciting and something to be pursued.