Yesterday we looked briefly at employees — humans — working through change, as well as the notion that they could “just get over it.” Here are a few of the reasons I’m just not sure it’s reasonable to think it’s that simple.
1. They’re human.
We feel. We see. We hear. We hurt. We laugh. We cry. We experience. And we remember. Try as we might, none of us gets to start with a clean slate, so to speak. We’re imperfect humans living imperfect lives in an imperfect world while working in imperfect organizations filled with other imperfect humans living imperfect lives. It’s often so, so much deeper than someone “just getting over it.”
2. There may be emotional scars.
See above. We remember past hurts, don’t we? Forgive and forget is cute and all, but entirely unrealistic. We don’t literally forget past injustices. We choose to move forward and attempt to live in such a way that we’re not holding people hostage to their screw-ups for their entire lives. But the scars are there. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bitter. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re stubborn. It just means they’re human.
3. There may be psychological scars.
See previous two reasons.
4. They believe they’ve seen this episode before and they remember how it ends.
Many times, when folks feel like something is being forced onto them, it reminds them of the last time something was forced onto them. And obviously it didn’t go extremely well if it’s being changed again…
5. They need more time.
Real change takes more time than the fake kind. The human part of change, especially when compounded with the organizational dynamic, takes a good long while most of the time. It’s simply not as fast as most people would like it to be. That doesn’t mean you don’t put things in place, and that doesn’t mean you don’t provide the framework and tools for the change; but it does mean you understand that people need time to really embrace something. Sure, they could put on an act and fake it, but is that really what any of us wants?
They need to experience something different over and over again over a long period of time. It’s partly our experiences that drive what we believe, so in order for humans to truly believe something different, they need to experience something different. And not just one thing. Or two things. They need to see a different trajectory. Real deal change takes time.
6. We have to consider the possibility that we might keep reopening their wounds.
Remember that part about us as leaders being imperfect? Well, that means there are going to be times we mess up. We certainly don’t mean to, but we might do something that to us seems innocent and benign; but based on a person or organization’s history, that thing can have unintended consequences.
7. They can sense when leaders think all of the above is just nonsense and employees need to just get over it. And in a sadly ironic twist, that almost ensures they won’t.
People aren’t idiots. They often know when they’re being paid lip service. They can read between the lines of emails, and they attach meaning to actions based on the organization’s story. When people perceive that leaders don’t really care about their hurt or concerns, it only causes further pain or distrust or anger or whatever else.
Why does it matter? Leaders have a responsibility to care. We can’t simply cross our arms and pout in frustration when an employee or group of employees won’t “just get over it.” Instead, we should be asking ourselves why they can’t. What could we do to help? What emotional wounds need healing?