How will you react to change?

F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- Summer is here, school is out and families are planning their camping trips, visits to national parks, amusement parks and taking time to enjoy the outdoors and beautiful weather here in Wyoming. Summer is also our typical permanent-change-of-station season and over these next couple of months we will be experiencing change of commands and change in leadership from the wing on down to the flight level.

This can be a very uneasy and unpredictable time in a unit because these changes in personnel will more than likely mean changes in how the unit operates. Many new leaders will tell themselves and others, I don't plan to change anything, when in reality it is not possible to not change anything. We are one of the most diverse organizations and just by the fact that we all come from different backgrounds, have different experiences, different expectations and different unit visions everyone will make changes at some level. Some of these changes may be as simple as ensuring compliance with standards or more complicated changes in operational procedures.

Because change will happen at every level it will be helpful for everyone to understand some common reactions to change and how to handle those reactions.

The first reaction to change will usually be resistance. This is such a common reaction because many people are conditioned to believe that change is painful and not safe. One of the most essential elements to avoiding resistance is to have a good plan. Planning enables the leader to anticipate problems, develop courses of action and deal with the resistance to change. By playing the "devil's advocate" or having "what if" scenarios you will be able to anticipate the barriers to understanding, the sources of the resistance, and develop that plan to better deal with the resistance.

Change will also elicit feelings of uncertainty. When faced with an impending change, people may experience fear of the unknown or see the change as a threat to their security. They start to wonder if they can do a new job, operate new equipment or even wonder if the change may threaten their job. The impacts to the organization could be immediate if not handled correctly. People may become even more resistant to the change and try to sabotage the change out of fear for their own livelihood. In these instances, face-to-face communication will be helpful to providing a clearer understanding of the impact of the change and thus decrease or validate fears.

Another reaction to change may be one of happiness. This reaction usually occurs if there is something in it for someone or they are unhappy with the current situation and see the change as a benefit to them. There are some changes that give some people a job promotion or allow them to pursue a better role with the organization. In these instances the change is positive due to self-interests. These reactions of happiness may involve considerations about the power or role one has in the existing environment and the possible gain of power after the change is implemented. It will be important to monitor those that the change didn't benefit and look for ways to help them understand how the change will benefit the organization as a whole.
Changes will also elicit an array of different perceptions to include no felt need for change. Even if you think people recognize the need for change, they may have different ideas about the situation. Outwardly, they may support the change, but inwardly they resist it. One way to help change this internally negative perception is to allow as much participation and involvement in the change by others within the organization. By doing this you increase the felt need for change and reduce any resistance when those affected by the change are involved in designing it. This simple concept of involving other people in the change process may be time consuming, but should help ensure their commitment and buy-in to the change.

Another way to get that commitment and hence the felt need for change is through education and communication. Educating people about the need for the expected results of a change will help influence the organizations initial thoughts of the change and direct them towards seeing the change as a good thing. Communication will reduce uncertainty and is something that should be used throughout the entire change process.

Once the change is implemented there may be times that people may begin to falter in their dedication to the change and begin to have negative reactions to a change they once supported. This is where open and honest communication is needed to discuss why they are having second thoughts. If the change should not have been made the leader needs to have the courage to admit it and recalibrate the direction of the change and possibly start over evaluating the need for change.

Finally, if the change requires additional training, the leader needs to coordinate this and let the organization know the details of who, what, where of the training. There's nothing more frustrating then an organization that implements a new change, expects it to work, yet doesn't provide the resources (e.g. training, people, money) to ensure of its success.

These next few months will be very busy, full of new people in your organizations and yes change. Change done correctly will motivate others into action and create a sense of urgency in the followers. There will however be good and bad reactions the changes create. Understanding common reaction and how to deal with these reactions in the change process will help ease the pain of change and increase the commitment from others in the organization.