Tackling fear of change
Launching out onto the deep… Tackling fear of change
Whether in our personal or our work lives, change can be at best unsettling, and at worst, terrifying. In a business environment change is inevitable. Markets change, staff come and go, technology makes systems and products obsolete, businesses grow and need new structures to remain effective. In fact it sometimes feels that change has become a constant feature of business in the 21st century.
Fear of change
We all react to change in different ways. For some, the word ‘restructuring’ can strike fear into their hearts, as they perceive a potential loss of status, change in salary or marginalisation of what they hold dear.
Others react to change in a positive way. They see change as a new phase in the company’s development, which will ultimately benefit everyone, expand horizons, open up new markets, and embrace new ways of thinking.
How to manage these very disparate groups in an effective way is the role of management. Good leadership at these sensitive times can help staff to welcome change, rather than resisting it.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” H. P. Lovecraft
What are these fears?
Assuming you are one of the lucky minority who thrive on change, it may be difficult to get ‘inside the heads’ of those who find it so unsettling.
The speaker and humourist Michael Kerr identifies four types of fear:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success
- Fear of looking stupid
- Fear of the unknown
All have loss of control as the underlying theme. An able leader will understand his/her colleagues’ and employees’ fears, and will use a variety of strategies to help the fearful feel more in control of the situation – even if it means they are facing a future where they have to leave the firm, or accept a reduction in salary and/or status. (This is why leaders who possess Emotional Intelligence are particularly valued.)
The key to successful change management
Training in change management helps managers to create a positive culture in which change can be embraced by everyone involved, and the future possibilities appreciated. Change is a process. An effective change management process takes account of employees’ fears, but doesn’t allow them to overwhelm the process or hold back the inevitable.
On the other hand….
Michael Kerr also argues that instead of focusing on the fearful, managers should be concentrating on ‘the top 10% of people who actively seek out and drive change.