Dealing with Change

- August 2020 -

Written By: Bill Pierce

You probably have heard the old saying: "the only things you cannot avoid in life are death and taxes". That is actually not true since you do not have to pay your taxes but you may have some consequences to deal with if you make that decision.

A better saying might be "the only things you cannot avoid in life are change and death".Try as you might you will not avoid change as you go through your life so lets’ look at how we deal with it. Remember we said that one of our leadership traits was a continuous process of change where we end some goals and behaviors, morn their loss, transition to new goals and traits, and celebrate the new beginnings.

An example of change in the NPS occurred when I arrived at Redwoods NP and listened to the employees complain about the 13 permanent vacancies that had not been filled in years due to the lack of funding. As I listen and asked questions I also asked what we could do about it (what was in our control and what could we do to solve this issue). We decided that we needed a park wide process to involve all employees to develop and implement a core operations plan to solve this issue. It took us nine months with lots of discussion, stress, ideas and alternatives before we reached agreement on the new core plan and began to implement it.

All change begins with an understanding that something is ending (we were never going to be able to fill all the 13 vacant positions). Then there is a period of time (9 months in this case) where you are in transition and you may feel you are in an emotional wilderness with little clarity. We dealt with this by involving everyone, maintaining redundant communications with everyone and reducing stress. We did this by stating that no one would lose their job nor be transferred and that we would all validate our core values and long range objectives before developing the plan. Our number one core value that everyone agreed to was: We hold employee wellness and safety as our most important core value and fully integrate it into everything we do.

We were able to morn our loses (13 positions), transition through the unknown and reach a new normal because we held each other accountable for our communications, process and core values.

Key Factors for Managing Change:

  1. Validate your core values (honesty, empathy, inclusion, dignity, respect, etc.) and make sure you follow them.
  2. Know where you are headed, set your goals and have a vision of what the change looks like. Use the SMART principle - Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Realistic and Time Sensitive goals.
  3. Maintain a positive attitude - always seek the truth and strive to improve while forgiving the past.
  4. Persist and stay focused and motivated, an old proverb states that it takes 100 days to change something.
  5. Celebrate your successes along the way as you reach some of your goals.

Change is something that occurs over and over again in all of us and we should recognize this and plan for it. Otherwise we find ourselves down in the weeds (GRASS): Guilt, Resentment, Anxiety, Self-absorption, Stress. Will Rogers put it well when he said “Even if you are on the right track you will get run over if you just sit there”. So help yourself to navigate the stages of change we all go through ( ending the old way, navigating the unknown zone and beginning the new). Ways to do this include:

  1. Figure out what is actually changing (both internal & external).
  2. Distinguish between your current losses and old wounds.
  3. Identify what will stay the same (core values).
  4. Look at yourself creatively, how can you take the good from what used to be to where you will be.
  5. Remember that even the changes you want may throw you into that transition zone of the unknown.

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