Have you ever visited the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan? It’s really neat. I recently read an article, “Driving America,” explaining that not only is the museum displaying selected cars – starting with an 1895 Roper Steam Carriage, but the exhibition is meant to show the impact of cars on American culture—how cars have affected our history and so much more. The author of the article goes on to say that viewing the older cars is, “. . . a trip back to an America where driving was fun, unencumbered by angst about pollution, congestion and urban sprawl.”
Of course, the author of “Driving America,” in emphasizing the joy of earlier driving on wide-open roads, forgot to note as well that it wasn’t that much fun to ride in cars without airbags and safety belts. Plus, cars even as recently as the ‘70s were not sealed as well as our cars are today, so very often drivers and passengers were unwittingly subject to noxious exhaust fumes that seeped up into the cabin. And if you were in a car accident, the chances of dying through infection or other injury were exponentially greater than those we face today!
Isn’t it amazing how we romanticize the past? Individuals in companies that are undergoing change often make such remembrances into a very personal art form, one that can limit their lives and, thus, your company’s ability to grow and prosper.
I was an executive at two companies that experienced explosive growth. At one company we had a spell where we added about 200 people a month worldwide! Putting into practice a means to help all our coworkers handle such fast change was an imperative. However, once we got started, identifying the individuals who needed help accepting change in “their” company was easy–there are numerous tell-tale signs.
Those struggling with change often talk about “the good old days.” They hold onto the past with all the might they can muster. For example, one group of people was upset when the company no longer gave out little clocks to new employees. While a nice thing to do, it was no longer practicable. But to some it was not merely a break with a tradition but they claimed it as a marker that the company would no longer honor what had gone before. What we did instead was not only note the arrival of new employees in the company’s monthly newsletter, but we added a little biography of past experience. This demonstrated to the staff the outstanding people who choose to join us and made them feel even better about the company’s prospect! While the company was growing one thing you can do to keep a sense of cohesiveness is to try and keep operational units fairly small. In that way folks are still fairly familiar with those who carried on shared responsibilities.
The lens we focus on the past is imperfect in dramatic and misleading ways, but also in natural ways because each person’s particular visual emphasis is invariably based on their biography and interests. No way around that, even by taking the “fun, unencumbered, uncongested roads” of yore!
That’s why when change occurs, your first responsibility is to explain (or come to understand) not how change will occur, but why! In that way when coworkers ask you why we’re changing, you can tell them – to get to a better place! Your honest emphasis on the specific aspects of what will be better in your company after the changes have been instituted will go a long way toward affecting a smoother acceptance of the new processes, procedures, and people soon to be in place.
It’s a fact that some of your coworkers have microscopically narrow comfort zones. And here’s another practical way to delete “microscopically” from that sentence: When those in your charge or those you work with tell you that they’ll be happier “when” this occurs or “if” that happens, remind them (and yourself) that there is no need to wait for the illusory “if’s” and “when’s.” All that any of us is guaranteed in our life is this moment in time. Consider how this moment, like the automobiles of 2012, is in so many ways better than what went before. If you think about it, by the time you read this note the present will have morphed into the good old days!
Whoever said that folks enjoy living in the past are blind to a most obvious fact: There is no living in the past–the past had its moment of existence, but it lives no more. Remember to remind your coworkers that life–like our cars, our roads, and even the very English language we use to talk or write about them with high appreciation–inexorably changes around us, slip-slidin’ away.
But that’s no problem. Think about it, then come to enjoy all the promises this moment holds! And now this one. And this one in your better company of today and tomorrow.