We've all known people who've had extraordinary difficulty coping with change at the workplace. External transition causes internal chaos for them. A web of emotions consisting of anxiety, disorientation and frustration seems to change these individuals into other people. The impact of new ownership, management, structure, policy, technology, software, environment-or anything substantially different than what was-makes them lose their equilibrium and sometimes their sense of self. Management has the responsibility to help these people navigate through what to them may be a hurricane. But management can only do so much. People adverse to change need to recognize their issues and work on them.
While hard to imagine today, there was a time when big change represented an aberration in the business workplace. Obviously, corporate American history is filled with examples of sea changes. But most of them were evolutionary, not revolutionary in pace. From the average employee's perspective, the work environment would continue along with essentially the same people and policies. Management, culture and procedures stayed pretty much the same.
I remember years of returning from vacation, picking up the media and advertising trade publications and rarely seeing news that was of status quo-altering proportion. Because of their relative rarity, major executive shifts or even the occasional ownership change would send shock waves through offices and factories. With the proliferation of mergers, acquisitions and digital technology, that's ancient history. Today, change is a permanent figure on the business landscape.
With more than 21 million copies of Who Moved My Cheese? in print-Dr. Spencer Johnson's parable about change involving two mice, two little people, cheese and a maze-has dramatically brought this subject into the limelight. The book has spawned an audiotape narrated by actor Tony Roberts, a movie, a teen book version, workshops and corporate training programs. While the allegory is simple, its message is quite profound and thought provoking. The cheese in the book is a metaphor for what we want to have in life. The point of Who Moved My Cheese? is that all people can be oriented to believe that change is good. Johnson's principles are to anticipate change, let go of the old and do what we would do if we were not afraid.
I don't think that all change is good just like I don't believe everything happens for the best. And I don't adhere to change for its own sake. Yet I'm convinced change in business is inevitable, necessary and mainly good. We should try to embrace it and not be suspicious or afraid of it.
"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance" is sound advice from Alan Watts, the theologian and author. Dancing is a lot more fun than sitting on the sidelines.