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Change Cycle: How People Can Survive and Thrive in Organizational Change – Book Review – Sheng-Yi Chou

by on November 10, 2008

Change Cycle: How People Can Survive and Thrive in Organizational Change. Ann Salerno, and Lillie Brock. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., June 2008. 199 pp. $19.95. (ISBN-10: 1576754987) (ISBN-13: 9781576754986)

I would like to start with my book review in a different way since I like to write my review with the same style as in this book, informal, humorous, but very inspirational. The author Salerno and Brock stated six sequential steps of change cycle with wit and levity. Aside from simply giving the introduction of the book, I would like to try to apply the steps of change into practice by sharing my personal experience of dealing the coming change.

“Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

The first thing that came to my mind is the memorable quote above from the movie “Forrest Gump” after reading the book “the change cycle”. Life is like a journey, you have your very deliberate plan and somehow there is always something coming up that needs you to change the status quo or to adjust your pace. Some changes are good, some are not very pleasant. From my perspective, some are the “active change”, which is the change you have the strong motivation to take action; some are the “passive change”, which is the change that comes to you and you are passively forced to react or to adjust your mindset and attitude to cope with. Regardless of all kinds of change, you will go through the six stages of change, step by step, phase by phase. As the author said, there is no pain-free transition. There is no shortcut to skip the process, yet there is way to fasten the process if we know how to manage the change.

The change cycle model has six sequential stages of change. There are typical feelings, thoughts, and behavior people usually have I each stage. The book articulates and explains each stage in one chapter, then in every chapter there is case study to give an example for the audience to understand the stage better. This book is used for all kinds of change, including changing job, changing organization, changing work style, and even changing relationship. It taught people how to manage all kind of changes in life. The book focuses on human perspective and provides a guideline to help people have perspective on change and its impact in every phase and help people go through the transition. The stages from one to six are: Loss, Doubt, Discomfort, Discovery, Understanding, and Integration. Aside from the stage, the author also breaks the stages into three zones: Red, Orange, and green zones. Like the traffic lights, each zone represents different mindset.

First of all, before we start articulating every stage, we need to do self-assessment from the personalities in change chart. This helps us recognize particular life style; the strengths, and the challenges, things that help us progress the change cycle. In my case, I am a “cross-trainer”, who is charming, visionary, and persuasive. My strengths are innovative and optimistic, decisive, and have positive influence on others. My challenges are too impulsive, lacks follow-through and often critical of others. It might get me through the red light section faster, which is the stage 1 “loss zone” and stage 2 “doubt zone”, but then I need to be careful with the last stage, which is integration zone. According to my personalities in the change chart, I am the kind of person who begins with a flourish but peter out towards the end. So I should pay more attention to the last stage to avoid failure of change. Now let’s take a close look at the “syndrome” of each stage and see how we can cope with it.

Before explaining and introducing the stage, I would like to give a brief introduction of my “case study.” I recently got the chance to do the exchange program in one of the top notch school in Sweden. The school is famous for its computer science classes, especially User-Interface Design, the field that interests me the most. The program starts from January to June, which would be winter and spring quarter here. After I talked to the dean, he commits to grant the elective credits I will be taking in Sweden. He even made an exception for me that I can transfer the credits of required class such as capstone project. It should a great opportunity and change. But then after I hand in my application for the program and got accepted, I started to be panic. I sat at the international student service office watching the related document, soon realized how exactly this is going to affect me. I might lose the opportunity of networking or getting job here if I leave. What’s worse, I might not even be able to get back because of my visa issue. Then I realized I am at the stage one-loss stage, knowing there is some loss coming because of the change. I sensed the fear growing inside me. And exactly as the book describes, my behavior became more or less frozen, I walked around the campus the whole afternoon, trying to figure out if I should sign the contract and pay the tuition, or just draw back the plan now. It was not a very productive day and I took the advice from this book, which is “There is really nothing to fix. You need a little time and stillness while sorting out what is happening. Be patient-with yourself and others.” Instead of signing the contract right away, I went home and gave myself half-day off.

I tried to think it through. Due to the limit of transfer credits, I need to extend my graduation. Aside from extra $7,000 tuition I have to pay for extra quarter, I might lose the opportunity of getting a job here since I will be gone for six months, the time graduate students usually search for job and set up interviews. After thinking all night after the incoming change, I realized that I might lose more than I thought—the opportunity of potential job, current apartment, tuition for the extended quarter. I started having the feeling of resentment, which is the stage two-doubt stage. Instead of being determined to go study in Sweden, I blamed and questioned myself. All the voices got loud in my head, “What the hell was I thinking? “ “What am I doing? Why am I putting myself into this situation?” “Is that really good for me?” “Is that really worth it?” In this stage, the book suggests that I ask for help, talk about the change, and collect more data. So I started collecting all the data, including quantitative and qualitative one. I started budgeting for expense of the exchange program. I sought for advice from former exchange students and professors. I calmed myself down and reasoned the resentment in a rational and logical way. And mostly I tried to do what the book suggests, “keep the batteries of your self-assessment charged.” I tried to stay positive and optimistic as much as I can.

Then soon after the analysis and suggestion, I still felt that is the change I want, I felt somewhat relieved, a little bit exhausted of making pre-change preparation. The author pointed out that is the stage three-discomfort stage. I am trying to assimilate the newness and get used to it. I started taking Swedish class and emailed the professor from the class that I would be taking to discuss about the project I might be interested in doing. But at the same time I still had school and study going on, even though I am not as anxious as I was at the beginning, I felt overwhelmed most of time. I know where the anxiety comes from: It all happened too fast and I am not ready for the change. I could not even find the time to look for the apartment or housing there, and I had difficulty of practicing this new language. I was tired from working overtime and burning myself out. I lost my pace of work, became unproductive, and easily got distracted because there is so much going on. In this stage, the suggestion is to take realism when doing the new tasks. I tried to cut some slacks and give myself some back-up plan to avoid escalating my stress. Also I prioritized every task to get my energy and focus back.

Everything cooled down and started to be on the right track, I feel that things are back to control again. I am still not sure where does the plan go. I am still hesitant about the coming change and wonder if this is the right decision I made. I feel like a lawyer who argues and debates for both sides. But aside from those emotional feelings, I believe things might actually turn out okay and it could be a great adventure. As the book describes, in this discovery stage “there are no guarantees, but you want to see what happens.” I feel excited about the unknown journey. After seeing all the disadvantages of going to Sweden, I realized there are some advantages: I will learn another language, which is the thing I always love to do. I will take the two famous User Interface design classes. I will get to experience Scandinavian culture, including social value, business culture, and so on. Different from those previous stages, the stage makes me have more objective attitude and start to see other viewpoints. High investment often follows high risk. I tell myself, this is the change that would not happen again in my student life. Be a risk taker and get ready to explore the unknown.

Like traffic light, there are red, orange, and green lights. Stage one and two are red light zone. Stage three and four are orange light zone. And now I am entering stage five and six, which are the green zone. I look at the brochure of the affiliate school, remembering why I had original attention to make the change at the first place. The picture of the future became clearer. I am comfortable with the change and have the confidence to deal with the potential challenges. The book in this chapter left the note to reader: I understand. I am ready. I am moving! The last stage is talking about the stage which states the attitude, thoughts, and behavior people normally after the change is being accomplished. I have not “been there, done that”, so I have limited of reflection of this stage. Yet I like the advice the author provided: “What does not bend will break.” You can make continuous improvement but always remember to leave room for the flexibility and mistake to prevent you from going back to the red zone. Also adjust your perspective to see things. The book mentioned that there is Chinese work for change called “Wei Ji”. Wei means crisis, and Ji means opportunity. I think it is a good say. Life is all about change. Change can be crisis or opportunity, depending on your perspective and management of the change.

Life is all about dealing with change and uncertainty. Life is all about managing plan and surprise. Life is a series of choice and decision making. The book provided excellent guidelines and points to tell people how to deal with the change in life. Change of job, family, or even relationship. I hope the audiences who read my review find this book useful and practical as I do.

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