Wilting, decks, and change…oh my!


hands working in the garden

A few weeks ago, I shared some pictures of my deck project and used them as a metaphor for how to think about change management from the perspective of the emotional roller coaster that it can cause.

You may remember these ‘before’ pictures of my deck project….

Deck project before

And here’s a quick refresher of the emotional stages we go through when living through change (you can read my previous blog and refresh your memory about these stages here).

Stage 1: Uninformed optimism
Stage 2: Informed pessimism
Stage 3: Valley of despair
Stage 4: Informed optimism
Stage 5: Completion

Here are a couple of pictures of my “informed optimism’ phase.

deck project in progress

And here are a couple of pictures of Stage 5, which is looking a lot like Completion.

Summer deck completed

The structure is great – we love it. The furniture is beautiful – we love it. When the carpenters left and the furniture was delivered it would have been easy to declare that the change had taken place and that stage 5 was done.

But not so fast. Change leadership isn’t complete.

Take a closer look.

Deck project garden

In my metaphor of the deck as a change management project, the plants represent the people who are taken on the change journey.

When asking people to change, there are two variables that I would like to draw your attention to that will help guide how you lead.

These variables are control, and time.

People need both as they are getting used to the new way of being. How much control and how much time each person needs will depend on many factors. 

For most of us, the best changes are the ones where we have lots of control and have ample time. The worst ones are when we have no control and no time to brace ourselves.

In change management, we describe the life cycle of change in simple terms.

The ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning.

Easily said, difficult to live through.

The ending phase begins the moment the change is initiated. The old ways are over forever. Things are different now and there is no going back.

The neutral zone is the period where people are experiencing and accepting the change and this may be short for some and very long for others even if they are living through the change together..

The new beginning is when the new roots have taken hold and the vast majority have begun to thrive again. Again, the time it takes to thrive will vary on the individual.

In all cases, the way your team members experience the ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning and how long it takes them to thrive again will be greatly influenced by how you lead. 

As a leader, you have a tremendous opportunity to use your powers for good and bring out the best in others.

Looking at those plants, I dug and transplanted them into temporary beds to protect them before the demo and new construction started. 

They were shocked at first which showed in the way they looked withered and wilted. I worried that a few wouldn’t make it…but they all did. Soon, new roots took hold and they bounced back.

Then, when the deck was done, I dug out new beds and worked in new soil to prepare them. I was ready to move them to their permanent home.

Carefully, I dug them out, making sure to disturb the roots as little as possible, and gently transplanted them once again.

And look at them now. 

All tired and wilted looking, taking up lots of my time and energy as I continue to water them, prop them up, and try to coax them back to life. I worked so hard at this change for the better and this is how they repay me? 

Maybe I should tear them all out, throw them away and get all new plants. Start fresh.

I’ve coached many leaders through managing change and I know how hard they work at making it a success. I know how much pressure they are under and I know what’s at stake.

I know leaders can get frustrated with their teams when they’re managing change because people can have difficulty being resilient when stress is imposed on them, just like these plants.

I bring this up now because the world is opening up again.

15 months ago, we were all transplanted, weren’t we? When COVID swept the planet we all ran for cover and many people made huge sacrifices, many suffered, and most had to get used to working from home.

We wilt. We bounce back. That is resilience.

Now the lockdown era is ending. It’ll be a welcome ending but that doesn’t mean it won’t come with its challenges.

Offices are starting to throw their doors wide open to welcome people back and I’m sure many people are happy to go. 

Let’s face it…being able to work from home is wonderful but not ideal on a full-time basis for a great many roles.

So, as much as getting back to the office is joyous, it’s also like being transplanted again.

You’ll need to prepare the ground for the neutral zone to be as healthy as possible.

If you’d like to foster true resilience, allow the neutral zone to exist by giving people some time to lay down new roots in the new normal.

People will wilt again so this is your chance to be a leader and establish a sense of trust and psychological safety in the workplace. Trust and psychological safety are the foundations for bouncing back, being resilient, and thriving.

Back in February, I hosted a webinar on the topic of Psychological Trust and Safety in the Workplace and its role in resilience. The feedback was amazing, so I thought it was time to share it again.

As a kick-off to my free summer webinar “Lunch and Learn” series I’m hosting the Psychological Trust and Safety in the Workplace webinar once more because as the world comes back to work, we are going to need to lead another huge round of change!  

Let’s get ready.

To your success,

PS – Here is what thriving looks like:

Beautiful white flowers
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