Chopsticks and Change

Updated: Mar 21, 2018

Hank Ketchum’s Dennis the Menace is facing a conundrum that organizational leaders face every day. What should Dennis do with these two sticks of wood? He could use them to knit a warm sweater. He could play a drum rhythm at the table. He could pretend to be a walrus. Frankly, he could use them to perform any number of tasks. These two chopsticks offer him more opportunities than he is ready to wrap his mind around – and most certainly NOT a newfangled eating experience.

Change is tough. Dennis is reacting much the same way as many adults when our established patterns are disrupted by well-meaning managers. In fact, he is behaving more maturely than many adults because he is asking questions.

Do you remember the first time you were handed a pair of chopsticks? Did you know what they were? How to hold them? How much dinner actually made it to your mouth? Or, did you not even try and request a fork?

Think back to a significant change in your workplace. Perhaps it was two departments merging, a computer system upgrade, or a move to a new office location. Were you excited by new opportunities? What aspects of the change made you nervous? Were there unexpected bumps that threw you off your game? How was the change communicated to you and your colleagues? Were you involved in any decisions? Or, was the change foisted on you and the other change action stakeholders? Were questions encouraged? What type of orientation/training activities was offered? Did you take advantage of the change preparation offerings? Given the opportunity, what action would you take to smooth out the bumps that occurred during the workplace change?

Positive change reaction is all in the preparation and implementation. People will react to new situations differently. Some people thrive on new experiences and jump in enthusiastically. Others will question the necessity of the change (i.e. isn’t a fork good enough?). And then, you have the people who need a well-thought out introduction. They need to know the what, why, and how for the coming change. After an initial period, chances are each group of people will get on board with the change. To limit the number of bumps and enable the change process to occur smoothly, the management team needs to address the various information and communication needs within their groups.

Every change situation is different. Each one comes with its own situational glitch. The key to successfully confronting a new situation is to open your mind to different practices, procedures, and paradigms. Like Dennis, ask questions to understand the new context.

It is important for you to understand how you react to change and are aware of how your colleagues, management, and direct reports react to change. Openly acknowledge that people on your team will have different coping requirements. Create conversations that allow people to participate in the change planning and deployment. They may be able to point out an important detail that had been overlooked. Collaborative inclusion can help change attitudes about an unfamiliar concept from obstacle to opportunity.

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