Two weeks after I joined a new company, I hopped on a plane from Sacramento to Boston to attend my first introductory training. Everything was new from the surroundings to the weather to people’s accents. While I expected some of these differences, one thing I did not expect was so many fewer Starbucks.
Turns out Dunkin Donuts outnumber Starbucks locations 10 to 1 in Massachusetts. I don’t know about you, but changing my coffee routine was upsetting! At first I was anxious about the loss of my favorite cup of joe! For a brief moment I may have cursed the Starbucks siren for having abandoned me on the East Coast. But then out of my need for caffeine, I was driven to actually walk into to a Dunkin Donuts. Everyone else looked at ease in their routine and knew exactly what to order. As for me, I stared blankly at the menu which, alarmingly, was not written in a “chalk board style.” I missed my Starbucks, but tried to roll with it. I knew my familiar lingo of “Venti” would not serve me well here so I approached the cashier and cautiously ordered a “Large” hazelnut coffee.
My coffee came. I added my fixings with a bit of curiosity, I took a sip and tried it, and surprisingly, the world did not end. I actuallly thought it tasted great! While it didn’t have the strong earthy nutty flavor I was used to, there were some delightful chocolate and fruity undertones I hadn’t experienced in the West Coast counterpart. I got my caffeine jolt necessary to participate in my training (with some warm notes of hazelnut) and went on to have a productive day, just like at home. While the cup was different, the store was different, and I placed my order differently, it was okay. I got what I needed. (Eventually, I even developed an craving for their Boston Cream donut with my coffee).
While working with people going through an organizational change like Lean, I’ve seen a similar sense of discomfort and anxiety. Whether it’s your morning coffee, a specific routine, or “the way we do business,” change is change. It’s not comfortable.
The author and speaker William Bridges wrote about the “neutral zone” between ending the old and beginning the new. Whether it’s an individual or organization going through change, moving from “comfort” to “promise” is not easy work. It generally requires three stages:
Endings. People enter this stage when first presented with the change. During this time there may be resistance because people are being forced to let go of something they are comfortable with. There are also emotions that people are likely to experience.
Exploration/Neutral Zone. During this stage of transition, people may be confused and uncertain. Some people may still be attached to the old way while trying to adjust to the new ways.
New Beginnings. The last stage is a time of acceptance and energy. People will begin to accept the change, build new skills, and start to see progress from their efforts.
As I reflect on my coffee dependency, I also think about the habits my team members and I have in our daily work. Routines can be a difficult thing to change and many times they are the last part we let go of during a transition. When we’re in the moment, we feel that our habits have been with us forever and they’re unchangeable. I look back on the habits I had even five years ago and realize they were very different than the “eternal” ones I have today. By opening ourselves up to change, in work and in life, we can discover new and better habits that will soon become our new norm. And then things change again.
I see these stages play out with my team all the time. Do you see a similar things? How do you deal with the discomfort of change?