By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
It’s been said that the only constant is change. Why, then, is change so hard? Call centers, especially those in the healthcare industry, go through frequent changes, perhaps more so now than ever before. These changes might include merging operations, moving locations, implementing revised procedures, adjusting to new regulations, or updating equipment or software. Regardless the reason, three universal truisms exist: change is opposed, change is viewed as loss, and change is mourned.
Change is opposed: Change represents a deviation from the status quo, from what can be expected, be it good or bad. Change moves from the known to the unknown. Therefore, it is normal that people will oppose change, resisting it to whatever degree they can. This might mean clinging to old ways, lobbying against the change, or rebelling by acting out, offering resistance, or passive-aggressive behavior.
Change is viewed as loss: Change implicitly means giving something up – even if it’s something bad. Many people view change as a “zero-sum-game,” suggesting that there are winners and losers. They assume that the change makers have won and, therefore, they lost. This assessment is natural and expected whenever the change was not their idea.
Change is mourned: When something is lost due to change, it is lamented and grieved. Sometimes the loss is merely perceived (it didn’t happen) or potential (it might happen), whereas other times it is actual (it did happen). Regardless, the emotional reaction to that loss is mourning. Just as there are steps to grieving (be it five, seven, or ten, depending on which list you consult), mourning the loss wrought by change will progress down a similar path – and take time.
However, it doesn’t need to be this way. Change can be accepted if it is understood, occurs in small increments, and is within the control of those affected by it. This trio of suggestions may not offer much relief when confronted with global or national upheaval, but the suggestions are helpful when responding to changes in our personal and work lives, such as in the call center. In these circumstances, mangers can make reasonable efforts for their charges to accept and even embrace change.
Change that is understood: Change can best be accepted and dealt with when it is understood by those most affected. That doesn’t necessitate agreeing with the change, merely comprehending the decision behind it. To accomplish this, forthright communication is key – not once, but repeatedly so that the change message is re-enforced and not lost. Also, provide as much advanced notice as possible, giving those affected more time to process and grasp the change.
Change in small increments: Whenever possible, divide the change into segments and space them out over time. Change that is made gradually and in small doses has a much better chance of acceptance and, ultimately, success. It becomes more manageable for those leading it and more tolerated by those affected.
Change within the control of those affected by it: Whenever people can experience some degree of control over a change, they are more likely to handle it positively. If possible, let those affected provide input or even choose when the change will occur, the pace of the transition, or how training will transpire. While they will have little control over the final outcome, they can exercise control over the path to arrive there.
Yes, change will generally be opposed, viewed as loss, and mourned, but managers who are change leaders can greatly minimize these typical responses by clearly communicating the reasons necessitating the change, making the change gradually in small increments, and providing as much control as feasible to those most affected. In the end, change will not be circumvented, but many of the negative reactions to it can be alleviated.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.
[From the February/March 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]