Implementing change requires a break with the past

September 25, 2011
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Why do people seek change? What makes us decide to do things differently, particularly if the things we are doing provide us comfort or provide us a measure of success? What makes us wander from what is familiar in search of unknown opportunities?

With summer’s passing and a new, busy autumn season upon us, we all tend to seek different ways of doing things, resolving to change in ways that will allow us more free time, success or tangible rewards. If we wish to move beyond our current station in life, expecting something different to result from our actions and choices, we must start by deliberately considering an intentional act that, when taken, will forever change us.

When we consider the ramifications of changed behavior and then act to implement change, we redefine where we are going (one should not expect similar results when doing things differently) by altering where we have been.

Everyone hopes to achieve a measure of success, but we cannot grant or bestow it upon another because is something different to all of us. Far too often success breeds arrogance, which leads to complacency. If we ride a single success beyond its effective lifespan — thinking “our way” is the only way — someone else will either assume our market share (by improving upon what we do), force us to change (by revealing the shortcomings of our established approach), or disrupt our stagnant but comfortable existence (by offering a more exciting option). 

We must actively appraise the things we do, both in our work and our personal relationships, if we wish to remain vibrant. By continuously analyzing both our strengths and weaknesses, identifying the things that hold us back and leveraging those that pull us forward, we can remain an effective contributor to the life around us. Recognizing that the only constant in life is change, we must learn to accept (if not embrace) the possibility of failure, knowing that with failure comes learning and with learning comes change.

Success is not born through frantic movement without direction or purpose. It comes only when we stop what we are doing — when we consider the many paths upon which we can tread — so we can begin doing something new.

Whenever we initiate change, we must recognize and acknowledge three major factors, intentionally identifying and addressing their hold upon us:

1. We must acknowledge where we have been, recognize what we have accomplished, and wish to be or do something different before we can start to travel upon a new path. How can we better serve our customers? What can we do to improve a relationship? Must we alter our behavior so that we can remain relevant within a changing world? Is there anything that we can do to strengthen another or that we would be willing to allow another do to help strengthen us?

We recognize the need for change when our goals or objectives have changed. We must consciously step from our original path onto one that will refocus and redirect our efforts if we wish to harvest the fruits of change.

2. We must stop doing the things we are doing and that we have always done, no matter how effective they may have been in the past or how comfortable we might be in doing them. When we accept and acknowledge that change is necessary, we must abandon the paths (and methods) with which we are comfortable, intentionally and deliberately walking away from the safety provided. A change in paradigm must often occur, walking away from “what is usually done and accepted by others” toward “what has not yet been tried.”

A disciplinary procedure must not always include time off without pay (what is the value of suspension when an employee chooses not to work in the first place?). How can a meaningful relationship be maintained if both parties want everything “their way” with neither willing to “walk a mile” in the other’s shoes?

3. As we identify and abandon the habits and actions holding us back, we must move forward in a way that produces positive growth and change, that rewards us for our efforts, so that we will continue to reach for new horizons. We all have personal strengths: the characteristics responsible for any success we have achieved. Everyone can celebrate “peaks of accomplishment” in their past. Far too many, however, choose to rest within the quiet valleys beyond their achievements, establishing value based on those things that were done in the past rather than on those things that have not yet been identified. In order to realize meaningful change, we must identify the thoughts, practices and actions that brought us to our heights (to replicate them) while discarding those that brought us to our knees (to avoid their recurrence).

People must change more than their outward appearance if they expect their path to shift significantly. We often hear about “new and improved” products, only to find nothing but the packaging has changed. Television networks frequently change the night that a failing program airs in order to gain viewers from a less competitive offering. If we are resolved to change we must consciously decide NOT to “stay the course” by innovatively clearing a new path into an unknown wilderness. We must acknowledge our past (both the wins and the losses) before we can define our present (from which we must move forward) if we harbor any expectation of creating a different future (that holds limitless opportunity). 

A change in season often triggers a desire to alter our behavior and move forward to a more promising future. In order to accomplish change, it is important that we continually take stock of what we are doing and where we are going — then actively seek paths that will lead us from complacency to new destinations, new relationships and new opportunities.

David J. Smith, CAE, is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.

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