- Why Change Should be Easy and it’s Hard – Creative Buddha
By Joe Giordano
Change is here, and it is moving faster and on more dimensions than ever before. It is opening vast opportunities for growth and innovation on a global basis, and with it the comes the need to be agile and resilient. So, how do leaders deal with this?
Leaders are required to manage this inevitable change and to help employees through the transitions. And yet, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Employees cannot seem to get through to the next phase, and in many cases they never get over the change. They got on the right bus, but the bus changed directions. And kicking them off seems like a tremendous waste of the human capital built-up in an organization, and the institutional knowledge that can form the bedrock of a company’s resilience.
The “Human Capital” we are talking about, of course, are people, and to understand the internal processes that people go through when they face flux, I connect to a place I have explored many times before, the teachings of the Buddha (see earlier blogs on the Eightfold Path to Innovation).
Accepting and Embracing Flux
Why Buddha? Because one of basic tenets of Buddhism, Anicca, is that our existence is in a constant state of flux and we all must strive to work within the change. Ideally, we should be able to adjust quickly and successfully change our approaches and practices. Not change for change’s sake. We should make purposeful change.
The Pali word anicca literally means “inconstant”, and arises from a synthesis of two separate words, ‘Nicca’ and the ‘’a’. The word ‘Nicca’ refers to the concept of continuity and permanence, ‘Anicca’ refers to its exact opposite; the absence of permanence and continuity. It is this absence of permanence and continuity that we strive to work within.
If the notion of Anicca is the basis of what organizations are confronting, what can Buddhism teach us about the resistance of people to change and how to help them overcome that resistance. A leader must remember that each employee is constantly in a state of fluctuation and change–not just at work but also in their personal lives. Leaders must give them the skills, tools, flexibility and time to be able to take on the work changes in order to provide a sense of normalcy.
Identifying and Accepting Stress Points
We are always reluctant to change because we are trying to avoid anticipated suffering, stress, or lack of satisfaction. In Buddhist terms this is Dukkha, commonly translated as “suffering”, “anxiety”, “stress”, or “unsatisfactoriness.” The principle of Dukkha is one of the most important concepts of Buddhism and the Buddha is reputed to have said: “I have taught one thing and one thing only, Dukkha and the cessation of Dukkha.”
Dukkha is commonly explained according to three different categories:
The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying. These things are beyond our control and we have little or no ability to impact the beginning or end of these events. However, these create great suffering and stress in our lives and we are merely in a coping mode, conditioned to accept the fate that each of these create. When we are in this state, we tend to lean towards giving up and succumbing instead of being problem solving and solution oriented.
The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing. This struck me as very pertinent to the change that many of us are asked to participate in our work. As we try to hold on to the past, a past that we are accustomed to and comfortable with, it causes great stress and tension. We create in our minds an uncertain future. Instead of focusing on the potential for the future to be filled with positivity and excitement; through an anxiety filled, self-discussion, we create a future full of negativity and undesirable circumstances. The main facet is the stress a
nd anxiety produced because we can not keep what we have makes us unsatisfied with the potential future state we are evolving into.
A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, because all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards. It is fair to say that we should never settle for less than what we expect, however, how realistic are the expectations we are sett
ing? This is the suffering of eg
o-clinging; the suffering of struggling with life as it is, as it presents itself to you; struggling against outer situations and yourself, your own emotions and thoughts, rather than just opening and allowing life to take its course and be okay in that flow.
What this translates to within an organization in flux are pain-points for employees arising in three key anxieties.
- I am getting what I don’t want: such as being assigned elsewhere in the organization or having a new manager or team to work alongside.
- I want to keep what you are making me give up: the comfort of your current role or reporting structure or business area that you have been entrenched in.
- I want that, and I am not getting it: this underlies the previous two categories; the anxiety of not getting the raise, the promotion, the job you applied for amid the change.
Any and all of these pain-points show up in employees that are perceived as discontented or having a bad attitude. This can spiral down and affect culture and productivity, and increase attrition rates. If we accept the Buddhist notion of Annica that the business is a constant state of flux, this downward spiral can lead all the way to a company’s early grave.
In order to keep the process of change moving forward, leaders need to engage their employees in the process of creating the change, for employees to envision the desired future state for the organization, and participate in an iterative process of making change. It is a form of participatory transparency that will remove the suffering and the negativity because each employees will be given the opportunity to infuse their thinking and ideas into the process. This diminishes the “Not Invented Here” syndrome of dealing with change and provides employees with a chance to have ownership in the change processes versus standing by and watching it happen to them.
Regardless of what is changing, each employee will suffer to some respect because no one will ever get exactly what they want and expect out of the change. Provide your employees with a space (mental or physical) to discuss and problem solve whatever issues and anxiety about the change they may be going through. You must act as their advisor, coach and collaborator to alleviate their anxieties and overcome their issues.
Letting Go of “My…”
The third existence that is strongly connected to change and flux is Annata: Anatta means ‘no self’ and the doctrine of anattà is the Buddha’s most unique and radical teaching according to many Buddhist scholars.
“We usually assume that beyond our changing body, mind and experience is an unchanging and unique ego or self. Having identified this self as ‘me’ we then identify other things as ‘mine’ – ‘My spouse’ ‘My property’, ‘My religion’, ‘My country’, etc.”
This notion of “my”, according to the Buddha, is the cause of much of the distress and pain we inflict upon ourselves and others.
The process of change is often derailed when we say things such as “my job”, “my team”, “my boss”, or “my clients.” In reality, these are ego driven phrases, that we believe when removed will damage our ego. As this distress and pain appears in ourselves, we tend to impact others through our greed, ignorance, hatred and self-deception.
Buddha taught that when the idea of a permanent metaphysical self or soul (the “my” language) is seen to be an illusion, then one will cease to suffer and also cease to inflict suffering on others.
As leaders it is useful to keep in mind that egos are always damaged when normalcy is disrupted. The use of inclusive language such as “our” and “we” can go a long way to helping everyone mentally prepare and encompass the change without taking ownership away from their responsibilities.
As a parting thought, as leaders, a powerful tool is to model the behaviors and actions that you would like everyone to portray, by accepting of the impact of Annica, Dhukka, and Anatta on your life and your role within the company.