Managing Change? Use These 7 Questions

The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a season of incredible change, great stress and heightened fear for all of us. In fact, in a recent survey, 7 out of 10 employees indicated the COVID-19 pandemic is the most stressful of their entire professional career. Many leaders, their people and their organizations are overwhelmed managing change along with the stress and fear associated with these changes. If that is you, these seven questions can help. These questions will help you frame where you are and more clearly see the next step in the process of managing change, stress and fear.

Here’s the first question.

#1 Where are we right now?
Think about this for a second. You are on a trip in an unknown area and suddenly you are lost. Or maybe a detour came along and you were forced onto an unplanned route. Unless there was clear signage leading you to where you ultimately intended, I doubt that you would continue driving.

Instead, you would probably stop right where you are and say, “Okay, I’m going to get my bearings. Where am I right now relative to where I want to be?”

If you’re a leader managing in the midst of great change, you too should stop and take inventory of where you and your team are right now. Then ask these added questions.

1.1 What do I/we do well? Or said a different way, what do I/we know well?
All of us are expert in something. Our expertise — or the skills of a team member — may be the very thing you need in this moment. What have I/we learned from previous experiences that will be helpful in the present situation? So first, stop and take inventory before asking the next question.

1.2 What don’t I/we know? What can’t I/we do right now?
Some unique changes force us to learn new skills and master new approaches. Such is the reality of COVID-19. For example, can we learn to successfully work from home? Can we adapt and embrace technology — multiple platforms even — to communicate with co-workers and teams?

1.3 What am I/are we afraid of?
People are most fearful of situations they have not experienced. In other words, initial changes in unfamiliar circumstances are breeding grounds for creating new fears. And unsuccessful past experiences tend to compound those fears.

So ask yourself and your team, “What am I afraid of, and what are we afraid of?” This is important because overcoming our fear (the fear of change, the fear of the unknown — whatever we fear) requires us to confront it.

#2 What are the “what ifs” to be considered?
Now, you can play this out for a long time. What if we put this person in this position? What if we take this action? What if we do nothing at all? There are a lot of “what ifs” you can develop for your unique situation and the change that’s going on around you. But here are three “what ifs” to think about.

2.1 What is the worst thing that could have if I/we take / don’t take action?
2.2 What is the best thing that could happen if I/we take / don’t take action?
There are some people that believe the best course of action is always to do nothing. But I would argue against that thinking.

If you’re in the middle of the road and traffic is headed your way, the worst course of action is to do nothing. You need to jump to the right or the left or run or drive faster. You don’t want to be in the middle of the road and be run over. So you have to ask yourself “what if.” What is the worst thing that can happen? What is the best thing that can happen?

2.3 What is the most likely thing to happen if I/we take/don’t take action?
I don’t know about you, but I tend to be an eternal optimist. When I consider “what if” situations, I immediately gravitate toward the positive, beneficial, happy or exciting possibilities. But I realize some personalities are different. Some personalities will gravitate to the negative, more pessimistic side of the equation.

Really neither the pessimistic nor the optimistic side is the best side if those possibilities are not reality-based. We have to ask ourselves what is the most likely thing that will happen. Then consider how to deal with change based on the most likely result.

#3 Have I communicated my observations, my concerns and my opinions to the person that I need to help me make this decision?
Question number three is really important. Have I communicated my observations, my concerns and my personal opinions as to what we should or shouldn’t do. What’s the most likely thing that could happen? Have I communicated these things to those persons or that individual who would help me make this decision?

Now sometimes the decision is completely yours. And yet, I personally believe there is great value in many counselors, even if it’s your decision to make independently, I suggest that you still run the possibilities by people you trust, respect. Pick people that have good understanding of your circumstances. In your organization, most of you have someone to whom you directly report. So have you communicated your observations, your concerns, your opinions to them?

#4 Am I prepared to specifically and succinctly explain my reasoning for what I believe we should do?
Remember, you’re a leader. You can’t just come and dump these observations without sharing your own perspective. So are you prepared to specifically and succinctly say, “I have studied this subject? I have considered the options. I understand the risks and here’s what I think we should do.” That’s a big question and that’s a big step.

#5 Can I control my emotions in the midst of such pressure?
Question five goes hand in hand with question four. When communicating with other people, can I maintain emotional control? With decision makers? My team? My customers…whoever it may be? Can I communicate the decisions that need to be made with emotional control? Without losing my temper? Without being too stressed, too anxious or too excited? Can I control myself in the midst of these things that I may not completely be in control of?

If you can control yourself while others around you can’t, you immediately stand out as the leader your people need to believe you are.

We’re through the first five questions. Here’s the sixth.

#6 Am I prepared to accept rejection if it comes?
People experience four universal professional fears. In ascending order, they are: 1) the fear of rejection, 2) the fear of the unknown, 3) the fear of success,  and 4) the fear of failure.

So imagine, you do your homework, you prepare yourself, you ask yourself these questions, you’re ready with the answers. You present this material succinctly and specifically, and under emotional control. Here’s the reality: just because you do all those things well does not mean you’re always going to get what you want.

Sometimes you will experience rejection.

The sub-question is this: Can you not only accept rejection, but can you also support the decision that is made after you’ve been rejected?

Professionalism does not mean that you always get what you want. Professionalism does not mean you always get to move in the direction that you please. Sometimes you get rejected even though you’re a leader. Professionalism means you become the good soldier when someone else has the ability to make a decision and instructs you to move in a direction that you hadn’t planned. If you can do that, you’re managing change by managing the rejection, but with the emotional control that a professional is expected to exhibit.

#7 Am I willing to take the risk?
In some ways I should have asked question seven after each of these first six preceding questions. Why? Because it’s the question you’re going to have to deal with at every step along the way. You ready? Here’s question number seven: Am I willing to take the risk?

The process of managing change, stress and fear is not always going to go perfectly. You can’t predict with certainty how others will respond when you act. But the risk is important and necessary.

Notice I said “risk.” I did not say, “Are you willing to gamble?” Gambling would be throwing the dice and hoping for the best when you haven’t considered the previous six questions.

But if you consider the previous six questions in the manner I’ve suggested… If you let your common sense, your years of experience, and your native intellect guide you in answering those questions appropriately… By the time you get to question seven, gambling is not involved. It’s a risk because you know the possibilities. You have looked at the probabilities — the “what ifs.” The question now is: do you have the courage to step out?

I sometimes tell people there are three things that are necessary to be an effective leader.

  1. You have to have a plan.
  2. You must be able to communicate that plan to others who will help you accomplish the plan.
  3. You must execute the plan.

Make no mistake. Number three is critical when managing change. You can have a plan and you can communicate the plan. But if you don’t execute that plan, quite frankly, nothing ever gets accomplished.

These seven questions are a practical action plan to effectively manage change, fear and stress.

The questions one more time:
#1: Where are we right now?
#2: What are the “what ifs” to be considered?
#3: Have I communicated? Do I understand and am I ready to communicate what I’ve observed, what I’m concerned about and my opinion?
#4: Can I specifically and succinctly put that in a method or message that will be well received by my decision makers?
#5: Can I control my emotions under such pressure?
#6: Can I accept the rejection that might might come?
#7: Am I willing to take the risk?

I’ll remind you that with risk comes reward. And taking a risk does not mean there is inherent danger or misfortune waiting. It may mean great reward and great fortune lies ahead for you! When managing change, use these seven questions to guide you in that direction.

© Phillip Van Hooser  All rights reserved.


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