Last year, my keynotes and workshops addressing change management, stress, and overwhelm became my most-requested topics for speaking engagements. I wasn’t surprised. These are often the best places to start solving problems.
Once these topics are addressed, one can move on to other aspects of business: operations, sales, and marketing. But until change is managed, the resulting obstacles and negative emotions tend to slow the productivity and growth of a firm.
In this article, I’m going to talk about why change bothers us so much—why change sucks. Then I’ll talk about three steps for dealing effectively with change without stress or overwhelm.
Why Change Sucks
“ . . . we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”
– Sydney J. Harris, American Journalist
Over the last 40+ years, the only constant I’ve observed in the financial industry is change. If you’re old enough to remember the 1970’s (if not, do an internet search), you’ll know a computer took up an entire room. Now, a microchip—a computer’s brain—can sit atop a pencil eraser with room to spare. That’s a significant change. Amazingly, we’ve all adapted to taking our computers with us in laptop cases, in our smartphones, and on our wrists. Look how far we’ve come! One can argue that this change has yielded many benefits. Some of us even anticipate the next upgrade in technology. You have people like this in your office, I’m certain. These are probably the same people you see using technology for their own benefit, whether it’s for personal productivity or connecting more effectively with clients.
For some of us, change is an adventure; however, for most of us, change sucks. Why?
1) Fear of—or annoyance with—change. This one is mostly self-explanatory and usually obvious, but it’s often the main reason we hate change. Like the quote above says, we like the way things are, but we want everything to get better. An impossible expectation because change requires we step outside of our comfort zones into the unknown. And that can suck.
2) Too many changes, not enough prep time. If making changes has been pushed further into the future by an expanding To Do list (and procrastination), you’ll ultimately end up with too many changes to handle at once. Especially if there’s suddenly a mandate or deadline to meet. Scrambling to implement many changes at once—at the very last minute—sucks.
3) Lack of explanation “why” the change is needed. Given a healthy dose of logic, we can sometimes summon the courage to face changes. However, without an explanation, we instead summon feelings of frustration, resentment, and blame. All these negative emotions suck. (And also suck your energy, too.)
4) We’re forced to learn new skills, which may conflict with our learning style. Call it laziness or force of habit, we tend to shy away from doing things differently. The “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” mentality keeps us in our comfort zone and doing what we may perceive as “good enough” for us. In addition, if you’re not particularly at home with computer applications and the only instruction available is through online video modules (when you prefer reading for learning), then you’re not going to be happy with the change. You’re going to feel like you’re walking through waist-high honey when you could be breezing through the process, doing it the old way you’re accustomed to. Being in a state of uncertainty where you were formerly confident sucks.
5) Asking clients to do more paperwork. Just so we’re not so selfish with all our reasons why change sucks, let’s enter the poor client, who now has to do more work in order to conduct business with us. (Oops, I guess we just got selfish again!) We’ll talk more about how to overcome this reason. Suffice to say, begging clients to do more work while secretly hoping they don’t leave us over the inconvenience—sucks.
The 3 As: Manage Change Without Overwhelm
When I was a girl growing up in Brooklyn, NY, my father would take me to practice archery at a local park. Even though this was a long time ago, I still remember how hard it was to puuuulll the arrow back against the bow string. After this Herculean effort, the arrow nosedived a few feet away . . . nowhere near the target, which I swear was mocking me. My fingers hurt, too.
I don’t need to tell you that archery, like most skills in life, takes practice. After a while, it became easier to pull the arrow back. I learned to steady the bow so that the arrow flew straight. And then I could concentrate on aiming the arrow where I wanted it to go. All of these steps were necessary before I could shoot forward and land the arrow precisely where I envisioned. The same goes for you, your business, and successfully navigating change.
Change hurts at first but gets easier with practice. Like shooting a bow and arrow, you may have to pull back and evaluate your situation and your mindset before you can move forward. And you have to take the time to evaluate the target (your goal) and aim (strategize) before you let your arrow (your plans) fly forward.
To see change as a catalyst for better things in your life, instead of the bane of your existence, learn to use the three tools below, which I borrowed from Alanon. The 3 As can help adjust your mindset about change and guide you through the process so that you can shoot forward and land wherever you envision in your life.
Awareness exposes the cause and effect of change in your life. Without awareness, you remain unconscious of your sometimes-automatic behaviors. Once you realize what’s “running the show” it can no longer exert control over you. There are no excuses to continue “as is” when you are mindful of what needs to change. But just noticing what mindset has been in place thus far is the first step. Awareness is enlightening!
How has your mindset about change affected your business and your life? (good or bad)
Acceptance is an important step because people tend to get stuck here or skip it altogether. Sometimes, when acknowledging a problem in the awareness phase, people jump to taking action right away. This can lead to rash or emotional behavior, which compounds the issue instead of making it better. To properly go through the acceptance process, you must let go of things you can’t control, forgive yourself, deal with your anger—anything that will help you accept change in the deepest way so that you can move on and make things better.
Remember, even good changes can be stressful. Accepting change frees your mind and makes it possible to go on to the next step: taking action. By accepting first, you won’t waste mental energy on situations you can’t control. Concentrating on what’s best for your clients makes change manageable. Instead of being angry at new regulations, acceptance puts you in the frame of mind to explain the change as a benefit. Your clients will see you have their best interests at heart, will trust you more completely, and will not mind the additional paperwork!
What changes are you fighting that you can control instead? What changes are you fighting that you can’t control and should rather accept? How can you make peace with the issues you can’t control?
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
– John Wooden, revered American basketball player and coach
Action Changes Things (ACT). In business, you need to strategize with change in mind. Change needs to automatically be a part of your overall strategy. Like a snake shedding its skin. Do you know why a snake sheds its skin? It does so because its current skin is worn and too small. Also, to remove parasites. In other words, it makes a change in order to repair itself, grow, and leave behind that which doesn’t serve it anymore! The snake doesn’t think about this; it just sheds its skin and moves on. Sounds like a smart move for humans, too.
Doing the right thing—even if difficult—will help your business grow. For example, bringing a robo-advisor system into your business, changing your fee structure, or firing a client can be difficult, but will benefit your business and your clients in the long run. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. If you’re always being a fiduciary—no matter what—you will be guided by what’s best for your clients. And you will be rewarded with their trust and long-term business.
What changes do I need to make in business and/or personally? Write down one action item for each change that you can complete by this day next week.
“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.”
– Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker
The 3 As: awareness, acceptance, and action can help you manage change and turn it into an adventure. In fact, to keep your perspective when you run into a challenge or change in life, make it a habit to quickly complete these statements:
I am aware that . . .
I accept that . . .
My actions are to . . .
Now that you know about the 3 As, don’t keep them a secret. Share this article with your team members so that they can become aware of their own change mindsets. As a team, you can talk about the changes you can accept and control together. And also, as a team, you can brainstorm changes, prioritize them, and act on them—together.
Action Item: Give this article to your team. Ask them to read it and do the Mindful Moment exercises for themselves. Tell them to be prepared to discuss these concepts at your next team meeting (give a specific date and time if you don’t have an established team meeting scheduled).
“Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”
– Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich
About the Author
Maria Marsala, founder of Elevating Your Business, is a management consultant, life coach, speaker, author, and Wall Street veteran. As a consultative-coach, she guides seasoned financial advisors to simplify business, advise more, and live better. For more such articles please visit www.ElevatingYourBusiness.com