How To Manage Change in 13 Steps

If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.

— CHARLES KETTERING, inventor of the electric starter for automobiles/Founder of the Sloan-Kettering Foundation

In my previous blog I addressed how and why resistance gets in the way of creating positive change.

Now, let’s look at the nuts and bolts of how to manage all change by applying these 13 steps.

1. Be Aware.
First, pay close attention to what’s going on around you. When you change or attempt to create change, you will inevitably encounter resistance. Even those who love you may unconsciously undermine you.

I knew a husband who wanted his wife to lose weight, but as she became slim, he unconsciously sabotaged her progress. As his wife’s self-esteem improved and her behavior changed, he felt threatened. He hadn’t anticipated that her changes would affect the entire structure of their relationship.

Second, be aware of yourself, your work routines, your patterns of behavior, and your modus operandi. Notice if you’re out of step. Think of a musical metronome. If your environment changes and speeds up the metronome, you need to move faster.

2. Be Gentle With Yourself.
You must be willing to take one step back for every two steps forward. You want long-term change, not a series of quick fixes.

Learn to recognize the warning signs of stress and keep pushing forward gently. It takes commitment, resilience, and persistence. All meaningful long-term change takes time.

3. Weigh the Pros and Cons.
If the pros outweigh the cons, if the positive overshadows the negative, give change the green light.

4. Break Down the Change Into Small Steps.
When you look at a mountain, it appears formidable. You may become overwhelmed by the thought of the amount of energy required to climb to the top. But the long, hard climb is only a series of baby steps.

Break down the desired change into small, manageable parts, each with a specific written statement and deadline date. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. Always start with the easiest part of the change to encourage further success.

You do not want to let your mind play tricks by setting up a barrier of impossibility. Once you take that first successful step to action, you’re on your way.

5. Become an Orchestrator of Reality.

Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation
that we induce in individuals by subjecting them
to too much change in too short a time.

— ALVIN TOFFLER, Future Shock

Since we will always move away from what creates the most pain to what creates the least, the question becomes ‘‘How much pain are you willing to endure before you decide to make a change?’’

Daryl Conner points out in Managing at the Speed of Change that a change agent must ‘‘orchestrate pain.’’ To be successful, you must do just that: become an orchestrator. The status quo is a powerful motivational force. You need to provide another motivation to pull others away from their present methods of operation and develop new commitments. This requires managing information in a way that creates a perceptual change.

Most people say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” The truth is we see it when we believe it. Our ability to manage information directly impacts perception. Given the right information, the desired perceptions emerge from a new belief system.

What you believe is your mental pain endurance threshold is not necessarily anyone else’s. To become a Quantum Leap Thinker, you must become adept at managing others’ perceptions.

The first step to managing perception is to accept and recognize the distinction between your world and the world of those around you. Everyone has a personal frame of reference through which he or she experiences fears, desires, aspirations, and hopes. Challenge your assumptions. See the world through the eyes of others. Honor others’ fears regardless of your own judgment.


How To Manage Change

Apply these 13 steps to manage change over the long term and you will be on the path to living an exceptional life


You certainly don’t have to agree with another person’s point of view to demonstrate compassion. My feelings are as valid and real to me as yours are to you. How sad are the meager and self-righteous attempts to dismiss or ignore other people’s fears and concerns. Jokes, impatience, or patronizing remarks never work. Such insensitive behavior will always come back to haunt anyone who insists on operating as if his or her reality is the only reality.

There are specific actions that lessen the pain of change and foster resilience:

  • Develop a critical mass of information.
  • Let others know that abandoning the status quo does not mean losing control.
  • Understand how much pain others can endure.
  • Develop systems in which people can exercise some degree of control over what takes place in the change process.
  • Be aware that each person’s frame of reference is different and demonstrate with integrity an understanding of the individual’s concerns and fears.
  • Present changes in a way that takes into account various frames of reference.

6. Make a Contract With Yourself.
Write a contract stating exactly what change you intend to make and set a deadline for yourself. By entering into a written contract with yourself, you become your own coach.

7. Create a Routine.
Nothing worthwhile can be developed without consistent practice. Set a routine and stick to it, no matter what. Every obstacle you can anticipate, and more, will suddenly pop up: ‘‘There’s not enough time.’’ ‘‘There’s not enough money.’’ ‘‘I’d be taking time away from my family (or business).’’ ‘‘It hurts too much.’’ ‘‘It’s too uncomfortable.’’ ‘‘It’s not worth it.’’ ‘‘I really didn’t want to do it anyway.’’

It’s so tempting to take as shortcut rather than learn a new skill, develop a new product, or build a healthy relationship. But every highly successful individual I have ever met has achieved his or her position by practice and commitment to a constant, consistent routine. Pretend. Act as if the new behavior were already real. See it. Breathe it. Sense it. Feel it. In Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut said to be careful who you pretend to be; you just may become that person.

8. Be Patient.
Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.
Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections
but instantly set about remedying them—every day begin the task anew.
—ST. FRANCIS DE SALES sixteenth-century spiritual teacher and author

It takes at least thirty days to etch a new groove into your pattern. Patience is the choice of winners.

9. See the Whole Picture.
Any change within a system affects the system as a whole. When you can see the whole picture, your ability to support others increases.

10. Develop a Support System.
Support gives you the space to express discomfort and pain. Support provides a changeless center of stability and safety.

The totally independent person is cutoff, physically or emotionally, from others. An over dependent person clings to situations or relationships that are often destructive. An interdependent person is willing to both give and ask for support. This creates the foundation of partnership, a base of operations from which we manage change.

11. Provide a Creative Environment and Encourage Creativity.
The tempo of ever-increasing change demands a consistent flow of new ideas. Quantum Leap Thinkers must ensure a supportive environment and set up a reward system for creative output.

12. Encourage Superb Communication Skills.
Make a point of communicating daily. Touch base consistently. When people know you’re there for them, change is less difficult. Bring the family together for meetings or, at the very least, have dinner together. At work, hold team meetings; take your department out to lunch at unexpected times. Support must be visible for change to take hold.

Encourage dissent. Allow people to voice resistance. When resistance is diverted, it too often becomes covert and destructive. Acknowledge contribution. People need to be acknowledged for making a contribution, no matter how small. A small thank you carries a lot of power to support commitment and encourage motivation.

Change your paradigm about the concept of criticism: Failure doesn’t exist—only learning. Make all feedback positive and empowering. No one is his or her job, marriage, grades, golf score, or sales quota. Always separate the person from the task. People are uniquely individual, full of possibility and potential. Let the individual know that he or she is valued, wanted, needed, and appreciated.

Listen. Listen. Listen. You cannot understand simply by observing. Ask questions, listen, and empathize. People seldom want to be cheered up; they want to be heard, to be understood. Paraphrase what the other person says, so he or she knows you heard every word. Allow people to release pent-up, fear-based emotions and you will make them feel appreciated, valued, and understood. Avoid asking, ‘‘How do you feel?’’ unless you intend to listen to the response. When you listen, you send the message that you care. What better support can you give?

13. Celebrate.
I’m really big on celebrating success when change is achieved for the better. Have a party or go to a movie. Buy yourself a present or take yourself out for a great meal. Applaud your co-workers; give them a plaque or an incentive lunch. Whatever the choice, a pat on the back reaffirms personal worth. Celebration is completion. Celebration is validation.

Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind
and proving that there is no need to do so,
almost everybody gets busy on the proof.

— Anonymous


How To Manage Change – A Personal Experience

In 1996 I discovered that my father is not my biological father: He adopted me. No one had ever told me. My mother was afraid that the knowledge of her first marriage and my subsequent adoption might have a negative influence on my relationship with Dave, my brother by her second marriage. To avoid conflict, she swore the entire family to secrecy.

While helping my parents move out of the house in Zion, Illinois, where Dave and I grew up, my nephews – Dave’s sons – were carrying a dresser down a flight of stairs. They dropped it and the drawers fell out, spilling their contents. Hidden underneath an old piece of newspaper was a marriage certificate and a photo of my mother in a wedding ceremony with another man. Mystified, the boys brought the photo to their dad.

Dave confronted our father, who explained that I was my mother’s child from her first marriage and that he had adopted me when I was three years old. Dave was horrified that I had never been told.

Six weeks after my brother’s amazing discovery, I was scheduled to speak to a group of real estate agents in nearby Milwaukee. My brother and father decided this was an ideal time for the revelation. My brother and father drove the forty miles from Zion, Illinois, to meet me for dinner. As always, I was delighted to see them and catch up on family news. I had recently gone to Grand Prix race car school and was anxious to show my father photos. I gave him the pictures, but he set them aside. That was unlike him. Something was wrong.

He looked at me in an odd way and said quietly, ‘‘Son, I have something to tell you.’’

I froze. That sort of intimate statement was very much out of character for him. I asked if something dreadful had happened to my mother or grandfather, but he said, “They’re fine. I’m afraid it’s a little more serious than that.”

I felt myself on the verge of panic. What could be ‘‘more serious’’ than death? I glanced at my brother, who was perched on the edge of his chair, looking at me intently with a strange smile on his face. ‘‘There are skeletons in our closet,’’ my brother said.

I felt dizzy. ‘‘Just tell me,’’ I begged.

There was an agonizing beat of silence, and then my father said, ‘‘Son, I adopted you when you were three years old.’’

I quickly glanced from my father to my brother and back to my father. They both just stared at me. It was eerie. I felt my world of reality slipping away. I was speechless.

My first feeling was a whisper of anger and resentment. My mind began to demand denial when, suddenly, another thought literally popped into my mind. This really could be interesting.

Then my negative side tugged me back. This is wrong. I should have been told before. My mind flipped back to excitement again. I wondered what sort of man my real father was. Back and forth. Back and forth. My mind-chatter went on for what seemed like an eternity, then I made a conscious decision. I recall it as clearly as the sound of a bell ringing. I am afraid, and this is fascinating. I still felt disoriented, but I also felt excited. Everything had changed, and nothing had changed.

In retrospect, I am very clear as to why I was able to choose the more positive attitude. I have always had total support and unconditional love from my family. That enabled me to experience the fear yet look at the possibilities. Fear transformed itself into curiosity. I saw clearly that my father had chosen me, not betrayed me.

The lesson is very simple. No matter what life presents you, you have two choices about how you respond. Resist, deny, and blame, or experience the fear and look for all the possibilities that change inherently offers. Choosing to experience the fear and look for the possibilities is my definition of courage.

If you want to learn how to manage change, apply these 13 steps to any challenging situation and you will ramp your life up to an exceptional one.




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