Change initiatives require physical and mental effort, but many people fail to consider that they also require a great deal of emotional energy. In fact, change can be quite an emotional energy hog, and psychological triggers can zap the critical energy necessary to produce successful change.
In her book, The Emotional Energy Factor, therapist Mira Kirshenbaum calls emotional energy “the most precious form of energy you have.” It’s the source that gets us through the toughest times – the resolve, the faith, the attitude that keeps us pushing forward in the face of great challenge. It’s the energy most needed to implement change. Yet often it’s the energy most needlessly drained during the change process, and change leaders are to blame when this happens.
I have led many change rollouts, admittedly making some mistakes along the way. Additionally, I have been on the receiving end of several change efforts, learning firsthand the impact of good and bad change management. In order to understand the psychological effects of change management on a person's emotional energy, let’s take a look at how those initiatives were structured and the impact they had on me:
Good experience –
- I learned about the change well in advance of its arrival.
- Communication was in person or in a medium that assured everyone received the information.
- I had the opportunity to provide my input into the proposed changes, catching problems that had been overlooked.
- I received training on the changes before they took place, and training support continued as we made the transition to the new norm.
- I was encouraged to ask questions, and my questions were welcomed, validated and answered.
- Since everyone was kept on the same page and group input allowed us to catch problems before they became problems, stress was kept to a minimum, and no negative emotions were triggered.
- I never felt shame in asking for help, which boosted my confidence that I could easily learn and adjust to the new procedures.
- The change took physical and mental effort, but it also energized me and those around me as we created something new.
Bad experience –
- I heard nothing but vague and confusing rumors in advance of the change.
- Communication was primarily provided via electronic media that did not offer any assurance that everyone had received the information.
- I had no opportunities to provide input, and our group experienced many frustrating setbacks that could have been avoided if the leaders had only involved stakeholders during the planning.
- I received little to no training on the changes before they took place. Ongoing training support was weak or missing.
- Even though I was encouraged in a warm and friendly way to ask questions, my questions were then criticized, ridiculed (I am not exaggerating about that) and sometimes ignored altogether.
- Leaders might have saved some physical energy on the front end, but the lacking preparation and communication efforts created confusion and negative emotions for all other stakeholders.
- I felt a little stupid and lacking every time I encountered unknown territory, resulting in wasting time and energy as I debated how best to appropriately handle the situation. Regardless of the fact that I had a strong reputation for outstanding work performance and agility, the constant confusion associated with these changes dwindled my confidence, even to the point of me questioning my intellect and worth. It also zapped the emotional energy I needed to function well on any level, including normal daily procedures.
- The change exhausted me and everyone around me. We expended all of our emotional energy on three fronts. First, we had to deal with the stressful fallout from leaders who were frustrated with the difficulties involved. Second, when our leaders accused us of not being team players, we tried to suppress our negative feelings about the change, which, believe it or not, also eats emotional energy. And third, many ultimately pushed back, either resisting the change outright or pressing to alter the changes in-works. At this point, the stressful fallout from leaders escalated and the cycle continued to spiral downward.
When leaders conserve energy in the planning and rollout phases, the change process will require an increasing demand for energy from everyone as the change is implemented. The change becomes an uphill battle, leadership action becomes reactive, and emotional energy is wasted.
To keep emotional energy intact, leaders must plan with emotions in mind. Even when little time is available to plan, leaders can tame the emotional energy hog if they focus on avoiding these natural emotional triggers:
- Being an outsider
- Feeling confused
- Fearing failure
If leaders can protect their stakeholders from these three psychological triggers, they can preserve and even generate healthy amounts of emotional energy to carry their change initiatives through to completion.
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