A Crucial Component In Communicating Change

People don’t naturally embrace change, and for good reason:

Change = Uncertainty = Fear

People are used to the familiar.  There’s a reason they call it “The Comfort Zone”.

When you start forcing people away from the familiar, they can have a range of potential responses.   Their reactions are influenced by your skill in leading them through the change.  As a leader, you create the climate for how successful (or not) change is navigated.

  • Do it well and you can assemble an willing crew of change agents.

  • Do it poorly and you may wind up with a mutiny on your hands.

A lot of subtle forces will influence how change is received.  One vital factor to keep top of mind:

How much notice do you give when communicating that change is coming?  It’s no accident that a standard employment contract involves “giving notice”.

Notice is woven into our social fabric.  It’s what allows us to operate with a level of trust and relative certainty in the world.  Notice allows us to prepare for what will happen tomorrow, and the next day.

That being said, life is full of uncertainty, stuff happens, and the best laid plans change for everyone.How quickly do you let others (who will be impacted by the change) know what’s up?  The sooner you do, the easier time they’ll have with it.  Notice involves being considerate to others.

For example, if you have to cancel and reschedule an appointment two weeks out, people generally understand.  There’s a built-in buffer of time.  Back out at the last minute, and you may provoke instant irritation.

Here’s a recent example:

This past weekend, I traveled with my wife and kids to visit my brother, Serge, and his family on the New Jersey Shore.  Serge took us on a 25 minute boat ride across the bay from his house to a place called Tice’s Shoal.  There, we dropped anchor and waded across the shallows to the coast, where a flight of stairs climbed from the water’s edge to a boardwalk which leads to Island Beach State Park, where we had plans to spend the day.As we arrived at the stairs, there were two workmen hammering in a sign.

The sign stated that there was a $3 walk-in admission fee to the State Park.We asked the workmen:

When does the fee go into effect?  With an awkward look on their faces, they responded:

An hour ago. You can pay the Ranger at the station down the boardwalk.

We walked down to the Ranger station.  As we walked, we saw at least ten other people walk on by the station without stopping.  We stopped to talk to the Ranger.  Serge explained that he was here with family, how we’d boated in from the other side of the bay, and didn’t bring our wallets with us.  Serge went on to say that in all the years that he’d come to Tice’s Shoal there had never been a fee before.  He then offered to write his name and phone number and promise to pay the next time, or put a check in the mail when he got home.  The Ranger’s reply:

I’m sorry, Sir, you can’t enter, that’s the policy.

Serge continued:

What about all the people who just walked by without paying while I’m talking with you here?The bureaucrat’s reply:

Sir, I can’t let your family enter.  You have to pay the admission fee.So much for our best-laid plans for a day at the beach.Needless to say, my brother got pretty upset pretty quick. I think he’s in the midst of writing scathing emails to as many NJ State Officials as he can contact.

There’s a reason transitions often call for a “grace” period.  People need time and space to get psychologically prepared for the new.  I’m sure you’re busy and have a lot going on.  But when you neglect to notify other stakeholders and spring change on them at the last-minute, you create anxiety, hostility…or worse.

What techniques have you used to notify people of change that have been particularly successful?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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