Dr. MaryJo Burchard works in the East Coast office of MasterMinds Leadership to help leaders clarify and focus on what's most important to them, optimizing their personal and professional effectiveness through data-driven coaching and training. “The greatest gift we can give to others is genuine care and connection,” said Burchard. As an integral part of the MasterMinds Leadership team, she continues to develop resources to help people map out their contribution and needs in times of upheaval, change, and crisis.
In Part 2 of the Dr. Burchard Interview Series, MaryJo discusses the process of change readiness, as an individual and as an organization. The first part of her interview series focused on her background and her holistic human perspective in her work, and you can read that article here.
Interview - Part 2
Q: You have done a lot of work on change readiness and helping organizations prepare for and navigate change, tell us a little bit more about that work and why leaders would be interested in it.
Dr. Burchard: I think the majority of the conversations related to change readiness in the past have classified people as either change makers, change drivers, or people that are resistant to change. This can be helpful in marketing contexts, to be sure. But we need a more holistic approach to change readiness for people who are suddenly faced with a major change. In that critical, vulnerable moment, the last thing they need is to feel is isolated if they do not have the “right” initial response to the change.
Imagine the challenge for people who are labeled “change-resistant” because of their initial response to a change. Now, in addition to insecurities related to the change itself, the hesitant respondent may feel at risk of being stigmatized for being a wet blanket, for not being a team player.
Discussing change readiness in terms of speed of adoption – or general terms of “change-ready” versus “change-resistant” is too broad for interpersonal application. What’s lacking is context. No two people truly respond to change the same way or perceive a change the same way, because the change won't affect them the same way. Change impacts us in multiple dimensions, all at once.
We may be hardwired to “like change” or “hate change” as a general disposition, but nobody responds to all change in the same way. Each change is unique, and how it impacts each person is unique. Even people who “don’t like change” probably wouldn’t mind losing 10 lbs or getting a new car. This is even more significant with major change. If I had, on the same day, a death in my family and a promotion in my job – those are two major changes, but they will affect me very differently. The way I will respond will vary based on how I see their impact. So, even if it’s generally true that I enjoy new experiences, when someone asks me how I respond to change, I’d be oversimplifying to say that I respond to change like X. My responses vary every day. I am facing multiple major changes in my life right now, and I’m engaging with each one very differently based on how I perceive it will impact me.
People Experience Change Differently
We also need to be careful not to assume that our experience with a change means we know what others are experiencing who are facing something similar. I’ve heard people say things like, “She’s totally over-reacting. I’ve lost a dog before, and it wasn’t that big of a deal.” You may have had a dog that died, but that doesn’t mean you know how her dog’s death impacted her. You lack her context. Others can be impacted differently by the same change, because their context is different from ours.
This hit me like a ton of bricks when we were getting ready to move across the country a few years ago. My son was talking about how he didn’t want it to end, and how he was going to miss everyone. He said he was not going to know anyone across the country, and he was scared. I thought I would encourage him by saying, “I know how you feel honey. I moved all the time when I was a little kid. I’ll walk you through it; I know the process. I know how to help you.” My 10-year-old turned around and looked me dead in the face and said, “You have no idea how I feel.” I stared at him blinking. He continued, “You never had roots deep enough to know how much it hurts to have them ripped out.” It was profound because he was absolutely right. I was really good at the process of change, and I was able to help him with the process of change. But that did not make me sensitive to what the change was feeling like for him.
Change Readiness - Reframe the Conversation
The change readiness work that I have done reframes the conversation. It challenges everybody to stop at the moment they face a new change together - whether it was forced on everyone from outside the organization or it was intentionally planned. It could even be something that’s happening within a family. Whatever that critical moment is, we stop.
And in four different dimensions, we ask: “Am I ready to pounce - am I ready to go? Or do I need to pause?” If you are inclined to pounce, you feel like your needs are being met in or by the change. You know what is being expected of you, so you’re ready to jump. If you are on the pause side, you are saying that before you are ready to clear the launch, you need to address an unmet need. It doesn’t mean you are resistant per se; it just means you need to pause to more details, or to mitigate risks, to process some loss before you’re ready to move.
In four different dimensions, we walk people through where they are on the Pause-Pounce spectrum. For that specific change, we create a profile of where they are ready and where they have unmet needs. And then we turn that into a constructive conversation that is solution-based. This allows people to feel safe and authentic in their initial response without feeling like they are going to get in trouble for engaging authentically about something they know or fear will impact them in a specific way. It makes change humane. I think that is one of the most important things in every conversation.
Whatever we are, we are human beings first. And when things cease to be humane, we’re going to lose people.
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