[Podcast] Good Grief! What a Year!
To say 2020 was the year of change would be an understatement. We began the year with the continued economic growth of 2019, but there was this virus in Wuhan. We watched and listened but weren’t quite sure how, or if, it would impact us. Then, the first U.S. case was confirmed in Washington State on January 20th, the virus was here. It spread rapidly, and the death toll rose sharply in New York and New Jersey. On March 1st, 2020 the U.S. declared a National Emergency and the madness began.
To combat the spread and relieve the strain on our health care system, States began to implement stay-at-home orders. Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) ensuring sick and family leave pay for impacted workers, followed by The CARES Act which, among other attributes, provided businesses with forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). While these measures were touted as stimulus, they were just relief to help the economy and the American people weather the storm at the time. Things seemed to improve over the summer and we started emerging from our homes resuming some familiar routines, only to get hit by a second wave of cases in the Fall. Change is constant and understanding how we process change is important in leadership. Whether it’s the emotional and economic rollercoaster of COVID-19, or a much-needed initiative to take your company to the next level, change is all around us.
When you search for the psychology of change online you will see numerous models ranging from 3 stages to 6 stages. None are better or worse than the other, they’re just different. However, the one that struck me the most was the Kübler-Ross change curve which shows how one moves through the stages of grief. It may seem strange to relate grief to change management, however, the emotions we go through are the same when we lose something familiar; a process, a piece of software, etc. and thus we “grieve”. The reason this model struck me so much was how I immediately saw these emotions played out over the past 9-months as Americans wrestled with their own personal griefs due to the changes in their lives as a result of COVID. Within Kübler-Ross’ change curve there are 3 stages and two emotions within each stage; Stage 1 Shock and Denial, Stage 2 Anger and Depression, and Stage 3 Acceptance and Integration.
What’s most important to understand is that we need to go through all these stages to complete our grieving process and we don’t all progress at the same pace. For instance, I’m in stage 3 as I have accepted all that has happened thus far, and I have integrated face coverings and social distancing into my daily routine. I often tell others that “I am like water, just going with the flow” as I know there is nothing I can do to control it other than covering up, social distancing and moving forward. However, I encounter many who are still in denial calling COVID a hoax, or my neighbors angrily protesting on my local street corner. They are all grieving the loss of something important to them; a job, their right to come and go as they please, the right to not wear a face covering, the simple pleasure of grabbing a beer at their local watering hole, or for nearly 300,000 Americans, the loss of a loved one . Understanding these stages and the emotions within them will help us get through this as well as any future changes, which we all know will happen.
Homeostasis is the ability to maintain a relatively stable internal state that persists despite changes in the world outside. https://www.livescience.com/65938-homeostasis.html. This is so important to understand because one of the most difficult aspects of change management is letting go of one’s current state. Humans are interwoven into the complex tapestry of the biological world around us and as such strive for balance. When changes are not discussed beforehand, employees are not given the opportunity to present their ideas, or when there is an outright failure to communicate, change is met with resistance. If leaders have control of their organization’s change initiatives they need to communicate those changes early and often, get input from their team, and understand the grieving process coupled with their team’s biological need for homeostasis. Employing these steps will improve acceptance and increase success. When change is unforeseen, such as COVID, grace and understanding will be your guide, and much like water, there will come a time when your team will just go with the flow.