Progress v Change

“People like progress, but they hate change.” There are a couple of misconceptions in that statement: Progress is the tangible result of change, you never find one without the other. But more importantly, people regularly confuse dislike with fear. While both are instinctive reflex reactions, overcoming each involves very different strategies. As managers of change, we have to understand that what on the surface appears as “hate” is in reality a fear of the unknown; fear of the future and uncertainty about our ability to secure a place in it.

Those who know me well know I thrive on change. And I don’t mean change for change’s sake: when I see something good, I know to leave well enough alone – after all, I have been married for over 25 years … to the same man. In our working world change is constant. Not so long ago only a select few knew how to obtain unreported decisions from Quicklaw (using an external, 900 baud modem), and now at the TLA we offer WiFi to our members, and CanLII makes court decisions freely available to anyone who would look for them. That is a tangible, physical change that made sense. But for some people change does not make sense. And it doesn’t feel right.

You could say that I am a change junkie. Now, if I were to ask others if they identified with that statement, many would not (our readers notwithstanding), and that’s actually quite natural. When we look at the Rogers Adoption / Innovation Curve we see that people who adopt to change quickly are a small portion of the population. Called Innovators, they are only 2.5% of the population.

For the rest of the population, it is not unlike the Five Stages of Grief  identified by Kubler Ross. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance can be brought on as a result of changes to one’s work environment or processes. We can become so possessive of our daily routine, that any change at all can spark over the top emotional reactions.

I think that people fear change made without their consent, control or involvement. It has become trite and clichéd to say, but people have to “own” the change that affects them. How do we get them to take ownership? Well, it helps if they understand how it’s going to improve their situation, if they feel they are a part of the change as opposed to the object being changed.

Think about your own life, what changes have you made over the years: educational choices; personal relationships; moved / bought / sold a home; travelled; changed jobs; learned a language; become a parent. Because you initiated the change, chances are it didn’t result in a spin through the grief cycle,. But if any of those changes had been forced upon you, adjusting would not have been as easy.

When it comes to effectively incorporating change, just because you follow all the right management theories doesn’t mean it’s going to be a smooth transition. The Change Curve describes the 4 stages people go through as they adjust to and accommodate change and the similarities to the Grief Cycle tell us just how traumatic it can be. At first, when the idea of change is introduced, shock and denial are common. Then when it is obvious the changes are to be implemented, anger and resistance surface. A natural human impulse, the fight or flight instinct is very strong. The response is not unfounded or irrational, especially when professional people with expertise and skill, reputation and security, feel threatened. But as the change makes its way through the institution and people see there is support and training to assist in their adaptation, things start to look up with acceptance in the 3rd stage followed by the actual embracing of the change.

Why all this talk about change? We can see it is as theme running through the other articles on SLAW:

  • There is constant innovation in technology;
  • budgets are decreasing and the trickle down of that will affect staff and collections;
  • how law is practiced is changing;
  • how law schools educate future lawyers is increasingly different
  • social media cannot be ignored

The profession of information science depends upon our ability to know our clients’ needs, and predict what tools will best make that possible. In the crucible of budgetary constraints, changing standards, and increasing demands, we cannot let ourselves get distracted from our goals of ensuring the smooth transition of change to bring about the progress we know is needed. You are not alone if being a librarian makes you feel stressed, under pressure, under the gun. But there are ways to cope. See you next time to talk about those.

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