Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Monday, 31 October 2011

Managing change as managing anxiety

I’ve had a suspicion for a while that managing change in organisation is actually often about managing anxiety levels. Just watch your own heart rate go up in a meeting when ‘hot words’ like ‘redundancy’, ‘restructure or ‘pay freeze’ get bandied about.

Change by definition is a journey into the unknown – if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be change. And the unknown brings uncertainty and fear. I see too many managers who try to smooth these reactions away and rather than helping their people face into the future give unwarranted reassurances and are then surprised when nobody puts much energy into the change process. At the other extreme, I see leaders who have provoked so much anxiety that their organisation ceases to function effectively, and they are surprised to find copies of CV’s in the photocopier.

An aspect of managing change is therefore about provoking enough concern to propel people into engaging with change but avoiding the levels of anxiety that bring dysfunction.  Getting the right balance of support and challenge is tough to achieve and a dimension of change too few leaders seem clued into.

So... where is the balance of anxiety in your organisation – too much or too little? 

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