Expert Commentary

Acing Change

The challenge of economies within business are unpredictable at best and contracting at worst. We all try to do more with less; even in the best of times, budgets get cut, key employees resign, and things change. Technology that was supposed to make things easier, faster, cheaper, and more effective doesn't, but instead makes managing people, files, customers, and legal obligations worse than ever.

Leadership at All Levels
January 2016

As the leader of your team, you must keep up the morale and motivation, both internally and externally. To do so, I recommend approaching life with the help of an acronym, ACE—short for accept, continue, and explore—to help yourself and your employees deal with change.

Accept Change and All Its Ramifications

The most difficult part of managing and dealing with change is to simply accept that it must happen. For example, even the best Ivy League schools depend on alumni donations, football ticket sales, and other means of garnering income beyond tuition. Without these additional sources of revenue, such schools couldn't exist, As much as we enjoy the sporting events, this draws time, attention and resources away from the core mission of the school: education of our youth. But it's still mission critical.

Every business needs to expand, i.e., territories, product lines, and sometimes on projects that don't feel that they directly enhance the core mission. With all the focus on strategic planning and specialization over the years, this can seem counterintuitive. But sometimes that focus on something different, a peripheral area, is just want we need to move something else forward. Maybe it's a temporary creative change that just gets everyone thinking in a new way. Sometimes, as in the case of college sports, it's going to be here to stay because it works.

While accepting change seems simple enough it's remarkably hard to do, given our human condition. We got where we are quite successfully doing it the old-tried-and-true way, thank you very much. It's comfortable, easy, and mostly on autopilot. Changing patterns is difficult. Brain researchers tell you that this comes from the deeper, primitive "lizard" brain and has something to do with survival. (If you haven't read NeuroMarketing yet, make sure it's next on your list.) Psychologists say it is because we have emotional connections to the things we do and the methods we selected after careful research and long experience. Educators will tell you that adults must connect all new knowledge to some older knowledge that is already lodged in the deep crevices of the learning centers of the brain. Abraham Maslow would have said we need to self-actualize. These are all proven theories to help us along.

However, how does one act on the concept of simple acceptance?

Continue on Your Path

You can continue with your mission, your work, your passion without making buggy whips when no one drives a buggy anymore. Step one, acceptance, just might lead you to accept that your current product or service isn't needed and that you need to find something new to do. As long as you know that what you are doing is moving into the future, you can press on. In other words, don't give up!

Many times, the challenge of moving forward is more difficult when you can't see the end. Long-range planning experts these days do a lot with a 2- year plan and leave the 5- year versions to bullet points. We know things go so fast that we will deal in 5 years with things that aren't even on the drawing board today, much less invented and in production. For you Star Trek fans, think about this: we spent 40 years fantasizing about replicators. And now, the 3D printers are making that a reality over just the last couple of years. Speed is not always better, but it's always a factor.

There are days when we feel as though the light at the end of the tunnel must surely be an oncoming train. How did it all start moving so fast? Some sage advice was given to me once that I'm happy to share: just try one new thing at a time. For some, the first challenge is still all this technology around us, which changes so fast. But not all change is about technology. For example, even the idea of a retirement, which is years away, could stop some folks in their tracks. That type of planning is years in the making, and is a case where resistance to change, and the ensuing lack of action, can cause real problems in a person's future. Keeping your mission in sight and continuing toward that goal is vital.

Explore the Possibilities

Once you've accepted the change that is coming, and found a way to keep moving toward your goal, the fun can really begin. Your inner explorer will come out and help you. Trying new things stimulates different places in your brain, including the pleasure centers. This helps you keep pressing forward. That endorphin rush keeps you motivated.

We are the explorers of the new century, seeking out new ways to keep our people employed and our businesses open. This is critical territory that we must claim. We must keep searching, and stake our claim when we find the new ground. Our industry and our staff depend on us. Leadership is a frightening burden to begin with, so we need to call on our most basic survival instincts to push us forward when times get tough.

How do we find the next new thing or answer? The same way we always have: we speak with others in our field, keep up education, and conduct research. Chat industry peers by e-mail or text or telephone, or, better yet, attend meetings. A study several years ago indicated that visual, physical contact with other humans causes an increase in creative thought, because all five senses can be engaged. So, you might want to attend "real" meetings occasionally to keep your right brain stimulated.


The adrenaline rush of speeding past the fear of the unknown is well documented. Most have experienced a moment where we felt the joy of being courageous and reaped rewards as a result. So, think of the next phase, the new product, the next technology, or the new workflow as an adventure to begin right now. Enjoy the moment for what it is: another day, another adventure, another chance to change your part of the world. Managers have that joy every day, because they directly influence the lives of others. So, accept the challenge, continue toward your goal, and never stop exploring!

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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