There is an interesting paradox emerging in the world of career management — the desire for comfort – as in one’s comfort zone – while the pace of change is accelerating in almost every facet of life. Tension exists.
This acceleration requires, no demands, a new mindset regarding change, especially when it comes to those who have dug in and fortified their comfort zone.
For people who like change, denigrating those who truly, emotionally and mentally, struggle with this fact of life is not a productive or particularly endearing leadership quality. Yet there are many executives and managers who find that diminishing those who would be perfectly happy if nothing in their lives or careers ever changed, is their tool of choice to improve performance. I find this rather amazing since unhappy employees are much less likely to deliver exceptional service. Managers who ridicule those who are struggling with change are just as much a problem as those who are digging in their heels.
Both groups need support and coaching, but of course that costs money. It is an expense, and far too many CEOs would rather look the other way than become embroiled in some issue they think is not going to add to their bottom line; the timeless expense versus investment tussle that is common in every corporation or organization.
Virtually every industry is changing. Those who have resisted learning new skills or a new expertise – entertaining any sort of change that would propel them from their comfort zone – are destined to fall behind without the support of an engaged boss and an enlightened company.
Now, shifting away from a pure career management theme to make a point, JD Vance has written a wonderful memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, about his upbringing and his family’s generational struggle against resisting change. We see what happens when people fall behind, generation after generation. They become stuck and then, ironically, dependent on the same government they like to castigate for social spending. In some towns, the crowd mentality takes over and those who do try to break from their zones of comfort are ridiculed. Vance writes that companies across America, from the steel mills and coal mines and manufacturing companies, even the labor unions that once fought for worker rights, have let their people down. Once the factories were closed he says, the mills abandoned and other smaller businesses failed, their support group in essence, walked away leaving them frustrated, angry and abandoned, unable or unwilling to leave their zone of comfort regardless of how arduous life had become.
Now refocus on your company, your division, your department. No doubt change has already come to town. If your employees are anything like the mainstream of America there are one or two, perhaps more, who are uncomfortable. Do not treat these workers as if they are enemies of progress. Do not get angry. Above all else, do not feel sorry for them. Anger, pity, even disdain that “they” don’t get it is a natural response, but the worst one imaginable. And do not relegate them to the pool of problem workers who cannot be helped. Engage those team members who are struggling. Draw them into communication. Get them to talk about their feelings, not just during a one-time event, but on a regular basis. Build a bond of trust. You cannot help them through change unless you can understand and appreciate their fears.
This is an important career management lesson. This is also an important leadership lesson.
Investing the time and effort to help apprehensive, change resistant workers through transformation will ultimately result in a workforce that will deliver superior results.