“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”
– King Whitney Jr.
Change is an inevitable fact of life, both personally and professionally. It can however, cause people to become uneasy or stressed, particularly when the change is sudden or unexpected. Changes in a veterinary practice can range from new technology, new products or new processes through to major change such as new ownership or a change in location. The success of change in practice, however minor or major, depends on the ability of the leadership team to communicate and guide staff through the transition.
In order to confidently guide your team through a change, it is important to first understand the emotions that team members may feel during a transition from old to new. Understanding this journey will help you to potentially predict responses and be able to provide appropriate and adequate support.
Understanding the Change Curve
When change is introduced, initial reaction may be shock or denial as your veterinary team challenge the new situation.
Reality of the change starts to hit, people tend to react quite negatively, they may feel angry and fear the impact of the new change, and they may actively resist the change. This is where an organisation can quickly spiral into disarray if not managed correctly. The more people resist the change at this stage, the longer they will remain at this point.
At this stage, your team will tend to stop focussing on what they have lost; they start to “liberate” themselves and accept the new direction. They start to explore the outcome of the changes and see what it means for them as individuals and as a team. They start to realise they must now adapt to ensure its success.
Acceptance of the change. Not only do they accept but if successful, they should welcome and support the new changes. The organisation rebuilds themselves and now start to reap the rewards of the team effort that has been put in.
Applying the Change Curve
Naturally, your aim with any organisational change is to minimise the negative impact on your team/organisation. In application of the change curve model, you want to make the curve shallower and narrower. Use your knowledge of the Change Curve to give individuals the information and support your team needs as this will increase the likelihood of successful change.
The change has been introduced, initial reaction may be shock or denial.
Your action: This is a very important stage of communication because people need information, they need to understand. You need to provide small amounts of information so as not to overwhelm your team/organisation. And importantly, you need to be available to those individuals who have specific questions. This will help avoid long term standing in the next stage.
The negative responses: anger, fear, resistance.
Your action: You need to be prepared by carefully considering the possible impact and/or doubt your team/organisation may have, although you cannot pre-empt everything, preparation is the key. Deal with these early issues early in order to minimise any negative consequences. This reaction point is very personal and can become quite emotional for some people (depending on the severity of the change). Therefore you need to observe carefully and listen intently at your team members concerns.
The turning point: exploration.
Your action: Your team will likely want to explore and “test the waters”, therefore you need to lay a solid foundation by ensuring that your team/s are well trained and given ample opportunity to feel and to face the outcomes of the change. Be aware that your team members will not provide 100% productivity at this point – that’s ok, because this is a very important stage for learning and acceptance of the change.
The best stage of all: acceptance and embracement.
This is where you should start to reap some rewards of all the hard work you’ve put in to ensure a smooth transition. The wheels of productivity and efficiency should start to increase in motion.
Your action: Celebration is imminent so make sure you celebrate success and involve all those who were impacted.
When planning on undertaking change in practice, don’t just take an ‘engineering’ and ‘process-driven’ approach, ensure you consider the emotional and psychological impact on your team. Understanding and supporting your team as they move through the change curve will set you up for change success.
Sue is acknowledged as a leading speaker, trainer and consultant across Australasia in the areas of practice and organisational development, strategic planning, communication excellence & staff development and management. Sue has a Bachelor of Business, majoring in Human Resources and Marketing, as well as her Diploma in Company Directorship (GAICD) and a Masters in NLP. Sue invests time working as the HR Manager for Provet and maintaining a weekend role as a veterinary nurse in a quality mixed practice in Brisbane.Sue has a practical hands-on approach and brings with her a wealth of both corporate and small business skills, having been the founder of the much respected AIRC and CCG, which is now proudly a business unit of the Provet Group of Companies.