With every great gain comes a loss.

In my change work, I hold to the belief that change is easy and fast. I often have people push back and challenge that. Over and over I find that it is the associated loss that people usually fear. This is the thing that often gets overlooked, minimized, or ignored in change efforts. You may even see cases where people really want the change to happen, but find themselves faced with a major sense of loss. Here are five major areas of loss I have experienced in my practice.

Loss of Control

Responsible people like to have some sense of control. That is control of their environment, control of their work, control of their destiny. In work settings, people want to be able to control the important aspects of their work flow. Loss of control can mean unsatisfied customers, unmet performance goals, or loss of product quality.

Loss of Status

As you all know, every job has its own special status. A change often threatens that. Even when people move into a change that can be perceived as having more status, it is not uncommon that one might feel a pang of loss of the unique status they had before. For instance, the operations manager who moves into the role of General Manager might miss the more personal relationships in the old job and the status as an immediately available expert.

Loss of Personal Meaning

People often derive a lot of meaning through what they do each day, even what can seem like very small things. A change can have the sense of minimizing or invalidating that personal meaning. It is important that people feel valuable and that their efforts have been and will continue to be important.

Loss of Familiarity

Many people simply like to know what their future looks like on a daily basis. They sometimes like the familiarity of really knowing their job and having everything in order. They derive comfort from the status quo, even if that status quo is not particularly comfortable. Just as an example, people who have been released after years of imprisonment sometimes miss the familiarity of prison.

Loss of Predictability

Very simply, people like to be able to handle whatever comes up. With learning comes predictability; with a new system comes the loss of the old and the requirement to learn the new. Whether the change is related to a new way of dealing with customers or new financial software, it means that people no longer have the predictability they once enjoyed. Set up ways of having people support each other in on-going forums or celebrate the learning that is ahead with the change.

To help change succeed, help people deal with loss

Remember, there is nothing wrong with any of these feelings. When a person feels loss associated with change, it is very normal. It only becomes a problem if that loss continues goes un addressed and begins to hold its own energy, which then prevents people from fully engaging the present. When people don’t talk about or express their feelings of loss, they tend to get bigger rather than smaller. Providing an open forum for people to release the past can catapult you into the future.

Successful change requires two concurrent paths

First, people need adequate engagement and planning to ensure that the important aspects of the work and life will be addressed and that they can be successful in the new system. At the same time, they need to let go of the old state. Imagine being on a trapeze, needing to let go of one bar in order to catch the other. If you know the other bar will support you, you are confident in your ability to time and hold on, and your safety nets are in place, it is much easier to let go of the bar you are holding. So go on, make your plans and turn loose. Be a good loser.

Jeff Evans is an executive coach and founder of The Gaian Group, an organization that helps individuals and companies transform their leadership potential.

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