While Sir Henry Taylor (no relation) has been long forgotten by most, we rightfully summon his ghost today, not in the study of very dead English Noblemen, but as an artful Master of Change with relevant insights to share with modern, living managers.

Among other worthwhile pursuits, ol’ Hank was a playwright and, in 1834, he produced one of his plays, Philip van Artevelde. The play, which was generally regarded as a snooze fest, would have faded into oblivion with little notice if it were not for the opening line of Scene 5, Act 1: “He that lacks time to mourn, lacks time to mend.”

It is precisely that line, that leads me to suggest that we managers ought to recognize the benefits of the “mourning and grief” stage when we’re planning change management initiatives. Stated differently, by actually facilitating the mourning process, managers increase the likelihood that the “past” (what it was) doesn’t cloud the “present” (what it is) or impede the “future” (what it shall be). Yes, you’ve got to let go in order to move on.

Allow me to present an extreme case in point. There’s a reason nearly every culture has a funeral, internment, or ceremonial event at the end of a life. We also note these events are generally not for the benefit of the recently departed but for the survivors. They’re about closure and finality.

Allowing the opportunity to “mourn” the perceived losses associated with organizational changes isn’t something managers tend to do intuitively. In fact, my observation is that too many managers insist that people, “Just get over it and move on.” This is largely attributed to the manager’s discomfort in squishy situations that are laden with people’s emotions and, gasp, feelings. Setting aside the reasons why managers shy away from these situations, this approach tends to produce large populations of people with unresolved issues and lots of unnecessary baggage. You don’t need to be a trained psychologist to know that condition makes everything more difficult.

If I were you, I’d be thinking, “Well that all makes sense, Bob. I can see where it could be helpful to let people talk about how a change impacts them. So, how about an example or two?”

EXAMPLE 1: Ok, it could be something as simple as, shortly after announcing an upcoming change, have an open forum for people to talk about what they’ll miss about the “old” days/ways. Just let them talk. You don’t need to defend or explain anything, just listen and, to the extent you’re capable of it, show some empathy. Pro Tip: If your group is uncomfortable with the idea talking about how they feel, you’ll want to start by talking about how you feel regarding the changes. Show people its ok and take the lead.

EXAMPLE 2: Beyond talking about how change feels, you might want to consider a “time capsule” to help a group grapple with the change and transition. I’ve seen it used in a number of situations, but in this example, the manager knew her team was going to have a difficult time letting go of a set of work practices and wanted to give them a chance to memorialize the “way it used to be.” She placed a Bankers Box on the conference room and asked her team to place mementoes and artifacts that represented the “past” in it. The team was given a week to add what they wanted to the box. The following week she gathered her team in the conference, sealed the box and asked if anyone would like to say something. Sort of a eulogy for the departed. When the remarks where complete, they sealed the box and placed it in a supply closet with a note to open in 25 years.

If you’re planning a change, consider giving people the opportunity to grieve the loss of their dear friend: familiarity. Help your team navigate the transition AND memorialize “the way it used to be”

Intrigued? Want to learn about some creative ways in which managers helped their teams through tough times and difficult changes? Give me a call and I’ll share a few of my favorites with you.

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