Bridget was sick and tired of change yet wanted to make still more change. But she wanted change on her terms. She had endured upheavals in her relationships, her residence, and her workplace. Reacting and coping had fatigued her. Still, she envisioned the life she wanted to create for herself.
Like many high-performing coaching clients, Bridget approached me somewhere around the third stage of change readiness. She was preparing to act.
6 Stages of Change Readiness
Precontemplation: We are not thinking of or looking for change. If a change is being imposed upon us we might be in denial.
Contemplation: We are considering change but ambivalent. We might not see benefits worthy of the proposed effort. We might not know how to proceed.
Determination: We prepare to act by gathering information and resources. We brainstorm possibilities, choices, what-ifs, and provocative propositions. We overcome inertia.
Action: We take actions congruent with our Stage 3 discoveries.
Maintenance: We monitor our progress, re-adjust and re-align as the situation evolves.
Termination: Our new behaviors are natural. We have less need for a programmatic approach.
These stages apply to individuals as well as organizations. But in our personal and professional lives we often consider only two stages of change: determination and action.
Change without Transition
When we awake determined we are motivated and excited. We act. And we wait. And some things happen. Other things don’t. Maybe the results aren’t clear. Maybe we’re not clear. Frustration sets in. We fall back into maintenance, which really means back-tracking to the contemplation stage.
When managers launch a change project with a robust all-hands announcement, they often assume that employees will leave the meeting at Stage 3, determined. But common reactions to change are doubt, questions, loss of a sense of stability, concerns about alienation, and fear of losing status. It’s a neutral zone where everything is up for grabs, all over again. Organizations hit resistance to change when they rush Stage 3.
Change with Transition
When we launch ourselves into a determined action plan, we are likely to feel the same insecurities. Transition lives in the borderland between contemplation and determination. There is no real change without the intra- and interpersonal work of transition.
We can help ourselves and our teams work through the threat of change, facilitate transition, with empathy, compassion, and connection. Team members need to vent, to feel heard, and to discover how they will contribute meaningfully in the future state.
In personal transitions we need to give ourselves time and space to feel fear as well as pride. Showing ourselves compassion boosts our energy, which we need to perform and test new connections.
Bridget did hit the action-results wall, initially. Because coaching is often about preparing for change, working toward a shift, we looked for what she needed most as preparation. As Bridget acknowledged her concerns and appreciated her own efforts, she felt more freedom to explore and experiment during her transition state. Her new world is taking shape.