Monday, June 22, 2009

Overcoming a Sense of Loss

This past week my family and I packed up all our earthly belongings and moved to a new city and state. I will now be supporting the Columbus, Ohio office of Definity Partners so a move to central Ohio was necessary. While a family move can be an exciting and adventurous time, it can also be a very difficult change. This has brought "home" to me one of the greatest causes of resistance to change: Feelings of Loss.

When going through major changes often one of the strongest emotions is a feeling of loss. Loss for what used to be. Loss of great memories and people you loved. Feelings of loss for the "good days" and feelings of regret. Strong feelings of just wishing things could return to the way they once were and sometimes even resentment for those who drove the change in the first place. All of these emotions can be destructive to any transformational change.

The Change Cycle Model identifies Loss as the first stage of the change process. It is accompanied by feelings of fear, thoughts that are cautious, and behavior that is paralyzed. At this point it doesn't even matter if the changes are perceived as "good" or "bad," there is just a sense of loss for what "was." These are feelings that typically can't be avoided, they are inevitable. So, how do we overcome these feelings and ensure we move on in the change cycle as quickly as possible?

Some of the greatest wisdom on this topic can be found in the Bible, in Philippians chapter 3. Paul had lost nearly everything that he had acquired in this world. He lost his status as a religious and political leader, he lost his dignity, his freedom, and ultimately even his life for what he believed. Yet late in his life, at a time that he was imprisoned for his faith, he wrote "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me..." His focus wasn't on what he had lost (things he earlier referred to as "rubbish") but rather on what was to be gained. He was focused on the things that lay ahead and not behind. He had a worthy goal to press on toward, a goal that surpassed all that he had left behind.

We can learn much from this example. If you or your organization are suffering a sense of loss that is preventing the embracing of change, you may lack the purpose that can overcome this sense of loss. Your challenge is to frame up the future in terms of audacious goals and purposes that energize your efforts and give you a reason to embrace change. Often this is all in our perspective on what we are doing TODAY. Compare the perspectives below and how they might affect how one embraces change:

You're either assembling a car or you're providing transportation to the world.
You're either making a circuit board or you're providing technology that helps others.
You're either maintaining medical records or you're guarding the safety and health of your patients.
You're either laying bricks or you're providing a home for a precious family.
You're either forced to make a move or you're being placed in a new community to help others.

I believe a common thread in providing purpose for any change is the opportunity to serve and add value to others. Any other purpose will fail to motivate and last over the long term (yes, Eli, even "making money" may not be a goal worthy of overcoming loss and embracing organizational change). Just reflect on what our sense of loss is for when we face change in our lives or organizations. "I long for the days of EBITDA of 40 percent" is not a typical sense of loss. We long for the relationships that we have left behind. We long for the organizational effectiveness that came with having a great team that "gelled." We long for days when we were at peace with others and enjoyed productive days. Making money is a vehicle that makes adding value to others possible, but it cannot be the ultimate goal in and of itself if you hope to see transformational change.

If you and your organization are struggling with a sense of loss that is keeping you from embracing change, find a way to focus your future on serving and adding value to others. Even if you find it difficult to love what you do, love who you do it for!

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