Books have been published, articles written, speeches made, algorithms developed, theologies postulated and corporate cults organized in pursuit of the truth about change. The result has been greater awareness of the phenomenon. But, alas, not much more demonstrable comprehension of the nature, velocity, volume or predictable consequences of change.
A man, whose identity I have long since forgotten, briefly described the Gs of change: an alliterative series that succinctly described the most common, successive reactions to change. Instead of grappling with the illusory questions of what change is, the Gs approach deals with the effects of change.
The Six Gs of Change are: Gasping, Groaning, Griping, Groping, Grasping and Growing. The first three describe the emotional response. The second three, the intellectual, rational steps to adapting and surviving. Indeed, the descriptions are applicable to multiple events and entities: the U.S. electorate’s reactions to proposed welfare reform, tax increases, natural disasters or the human tragedy of tyranny, for example.
Six Gs of Change
Gasping – Early awareness of need to change (Never happen.)
Groaning – Early acceptance of need to change (Could happen.)
Griping – Grudging acceptance of need to change (Going to happen.)
Groping – Search for viable alternatives (What now?)
Grasping – Selection of most viable alternatives (Now what?)
Growing – Development of solution, implementation, measurement
and accountability for results (Not so bad.)
Change is an altered state. It can be as subtle as the ambient disturbance in a room created by an opened door or window. It can be as acute as your body’s sensory alert when you experience a severe cut, break or infection. The intensity and duration of the responses described by the Six Gs is in direct proportion to the level of threat, discomfort or pain caused by change and whether the change was completely unexpected.
The most effective way to take the pulse of an organization’s responses to significant change is to ask. Variously called job satisfaction surveys, attitude surveys, culture surveys and environmental scans, the process of systematic inquiry can range from a series of individual interviews, to focus groups to a confidential questionnaire. In most cases, the process involves a combination of the three.
To their dismay, many well-meaning organizations have made a bad situation worse by ignoring one of the cardinal rules of employee sensing, namely: if senior management is not prepared to accept and deal with the survey findings, it probably is best not to ask employees for their perceptions and opinions. The most valuable role an outside consultant can play is evaluating an organization’s readiness to assume the potential risk of conducting a high-profile survey.
Those few situations I know of where strong, negative employee reaction influenced management to reverse itself were only temporary. In each case, the plant was closed or moved, the medical benefits were reduced, the work rules were changed. Change happens. It can be rescheduled. It can’t be canceled.
Acceptance is usually followed by groping for ways to cope. The organization is now more receptive to and eager for authoritative information, provided in a friendly and helpful way. The tone of the communication, therefore, shifts to what some may consider conciliatory. I prefer to think of it as moving toward an environment of partnership.
The role of effective communication in prodding an organization along the change continuum is critical. In fact, I do not believe enduring change can occur without effective communication, defined as: a sharing of information, in an environment of mutual trust and respect, intended to reinforce or change attitudes, and ultimately behavior, in order to achieve specific, measurable outcomes.
Bad news requires good communication. In the scores of employee focus groups I have conducted during my career, I have heard a recurring lament from those whose jobs and lives have been impacted by significant change: “Nobody explained why it had to be done this way. They just made the decision themselves without giving me a chance to think of another way.”
The better approach to communicating change, especially when it involves bad news, is to:
- take the time to establish the need for change by highlighting the consequences of maintaining the status quo
- present the available alternatives with commentary on which may be more appropriate to your circumstances
- select and communicate the optimal solution and explain the rationale for the selection
- outline the implementation plan and emphasize the need for cooperation
- provide periodic progress reports on the transition towards the desired change goal
The approach helps to build credibility and trust. It also helps to create an environment in which people spend less time griping and more time growing.
Richard J. Anthony, Sr. Managing Director, The Solutions Network