If you’re like me you've got some passion around the things that you're doing. You’re doing them because you believe in them, you want to see them through and you believe there is value in doing them. You get all wrapped up in the work you're doing. You’re passionate about the work. Then, things change, you’re asked to move in a significantly different direction. All the emotion and progress seem to stop immediately, and maybe your motivation goes away. It’s not easy to just shift and regain all the passion. You may even be unhappy about the change.
I've had this happen before where I've been cruising along totally wrapped up in the work. I was totally buried in the rightness of the work and the passion for it. The first time it happened I had built a $4.5 million dollar new revenue stream for the organization. We were doing better work all the time and we were progressing. Then, the business said we were taking a different direction and my team’s revenue stream wasn’t needed anymore. As the business got into decline, one of the VP’s told me it would have been nice to have still had the almost $400K/month my team used to bring in! The change made no sense to me and I left.
Change, we know it...
So the challenge is that this happens all the time. Organizations need to react and sometimes they need to react really quickly to changes in their environment depending on what is happening in the industry and with their customers and clients. I'm reminded of the saying that “Change is inevitable, progress is optional”. So how do you continue to progress when a change like this lands in your lap? I'm going to suggest that pushing back hard on the new direction is probably not the way to go. Agreed?
As a new leader, in fact any leader, invested with passion, it’s the passion that creates a problem for us when there is profound change. We are to some large extent being driven by a number of powerful, positive feelings that may get in our way if the source of the feelings is taken away! From this point of view then, it is our reaction to the change, rooted in our passion, that we have to reframe. This is the hard part because it is often our passion, wrapped up in our “leadership” role that shows people they are right to allow us to lead them. If the change doesn’t line up with your passion what will they see? How will that affect your ability to lead them through the change? For someone new to managing this can be a really difficult time! For this reason I tend to work with my clients to consider this question, “How do you progress and move forward from here?”. How do you behave to keep your team moving forward, albeit in a new direction - stalling now is not good?
Progress in Change Framework
Here is what I recommend you do:
Spend some time reflecting on the new direction - vent if you have to about the change in a setting that is safe for you and your job - release the energy generated by your passion.
Figure out what it really means for your team (focusing on others will help your transition) go deep and understand what it means for each direct report.
Think about what message (verbal and non-verbal) you want to give your team that:
Helps them understand the change
Helps them gain perspective on their most recent efforts
Sets them up to shift into the change
Be ready to approach the change from the perspective of each of your three roles:
The Manager: communicates clearly on the substance of the change
The Leader: sets a new vision and builds commitment to it
The Coach: helps people adjust and understand what it means to them and the business and why it’s important
Deliver the message on the organization’s schedule (not before)
Lead, coach, get into action and build momentum.
Make progress and coach through resistance - the resistance will need to yield at some point.
Try this out the next time an unexpected, high impact, passion crushing change lands on your desk. See if the framework helps. And, remember that even though change is inevitable, you can make progress through the change, maintain / regain momentum and discover your passion for the new work!