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Change Resistance and Relationships

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We have new owners at my gym, as of September 1st. The new owners have two other locations. Those locations naturally have different cultures than ours. I say "naturally" because ours was under different leadership. The past owner started the gym three years ago. She set out to build an environment where we were all in it together -- one that wasn't intimidating, but welcoming; one where you could set self-judgment aside and focus on self-love. She knew everyone in the gym, and she knew their stories. Each person's journey was part of her journey.

It's been only 9 days, but for the members who have been with the gym since the beginning, change has been challenging. I don't mean the new workout structure or even how the space has been rearranged. That stuff is easy. The real challenge is in the relationships.

We come into any relationship with a box of hopes, dreams and expectations. Sometimes we share what is in the box, sometimes not.  Either way, if a relationship addresses the important parts of we've wished for, we tend to stick with the relationship. Change interrupts the relationship we thought we had. 

When it comes to change resistance, it's all about relationships -- and more than one relationship, at that. Three relationships that are affected by organizational change are:

1 - Relationship with self.

Change challenges who you think you are. We all have a self-image, and that self-image is challenged when "conditions" change. That includes how you value yourself and what you think your value is to others or to an organization.

Most people link their self-esteem to how well they do in their roles in life, with great emphasis on their work role. For others, the path they are on and the principles by which they live are the measuring stick. These are big obstacles when it comes to rolling with change. They are big because a person's "I am" has to change. "I am" are small but powerful words.

If you've ever lost a job, whether you were released as part of a layoff or for performance issues, it challenged your "I am." In my last corporate role, my sense of self got really muddied up -- and my performance suffered. My self-image was in opposition with who I needed to be in my job to be successful. I learned a lot about myself through that experience and the break-up from that relationship.

2 - Relationship with others.

Change challenges your relationships with others. The relationship you have with yourself sets the tone for the relationship you have with others. Thus, when your relationship with yourself changes, it impacts your relationships with others.

I've written before about how in January I decided to be a person who works out six days a week at six am. That change in my relationship with myself has had impact on other relationships. Yes, it has created some new relationships -- and that's great. But I find I don't enjoy drinking alcohol in as much quantity or as often as some of my friends. And it's hard to be around them when I'm not joining in. Which means I don't see them as much -- and we are not as close as we once were.

A friend of mine went through some structure changes at her work. She now reports to two different people, neither of whom physically office at her location. She used to have a team of direct reports, but they have all been moved out of her department. The other people on her team are scattered across three locations. As far as the company is concerned, her job didn't change. Her title and duties are the same, she sits at the same desk at the same location, and the people she worked with every day are still in the building. But they are wrong. Her "job" may not have changed, but her relationships have changed. She is not alone, but she is lonely. She loved having a team and saw her value in developing them. Where before her value was in developing others, now it's all dotted lines and distance. She's not planning to stay.

3 - Relationship with an entity.

Change is a challenge to the relationship between you and the organization. Sometimes change deepens your relationship; sometimes it does the opposite. It depends on what you value.

Up until last week, at the gym, we had "cards" that we'd used to mark our attendance. Each had a bar code the instructors scanned to register us for class. When you had a week of perfect attendance, you'd get a sticker on your card for the 7th day (our off day). And in one glance, you could see your own attendance record for the year.

Now, under new management, we check in on an iPad. It's a change that seems logical enough -- it's an easy process and it's less work for the instructors. In theory, it frees up time for them to engage with members.
But like most change, there's also something lost. With the cards, instructors looked at your name every day -- and they were able to learn names pretty quick through repetition. Those little stickers don't seem like a big deal, but I liked seeing that smiley face on Monday. In a lot of ways, the cards were more personal than the iPad. Less efficient, but more personal. This is important for those of us who value having a personal relationship. The change to the iPad changed the relationship -- possibly in ways we haven't seen yet.

What does this mean for change leaders?

It means that when you re-organize a work area, re-structure a project team, or re-vamp a process, there are multiple relationships to consider. Change-resistance is a by-product of all three.

Change starts from the inside out. By definition, change leaders -- those leading change initiatives -- have usually done or at least started the change in 'relationship with self' before introducing the change to others. Other times, though, you're asking other people to change in ways you, yourself, have not embraced, so you make assumptions. Like my friend who is now lonely at work. Yes, it was important that she know her job was safe, but equally if not more important to her that she have a team to mentor. It's great she has a spot on the organizational chart, but her hands-off manager is in another state. She's waiting for him to ask what's important to her about her work.

At my gym, there are people who were there from the beginning who helped the owner create her vision. They've got some 'sweat equity', if you will. Our head coach is waiting for one of the new owners to ask her why she wanted the job in the first place -- and why she came back day after day to serve even when it wasn't easy. Her answer, by the way: Relationships.

People stay with a company because of the people they work with and the relationships they've made.  They also leave because of relationships -- with their supervisor or manager, or with the company as a whole. 

Change resistance is about relationships -- with self, with others, and with the entity. It's about who we think we are to ourselves, to others, and to the organization. A leader's role in change is to help people work through the impact to relationships. It's helpful if a leader has the tools & support to work through their own relationship impacts. This is where a professional coach can help. The higher up in the organization, the more impact a leader's resistance has. And I, for one, am convinced that an organization's character is defined (and their success is limited) by the top leader's relationship with themselves.

For more information on change, relationships, and resistance, check out a prior post: Four Keys to Team Performance.

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Monday, 01 June 2020