Change

Practicing Change Management (one hair colour at a time)

On Halloween, I went to a party dressed as Black Widow, Scarlett Johannson’s character from the Marvel franchise.

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I wore a cheap red wig over my blonde hair and boy oh boy were there compliments. Everybody loved the red colour on me: friends, fiancé, and kids. So after much deliberation, yesterday I asked my colourist for Amy Adams red and, by George, I got it.

I loved the results. The others in the salon loved the results. My fiancé loved the results. It was bold and better suited my personality than the Book Cover Blonde I’ve been sporting for three decades. But then I picked up my kids from school. In spite of liking the red wig, my daughter was not thrilled with the new look as my hair colour no longer matched hers. My son hated it because I didn’t look like me anymore. People were Not Happy and it got me second guessing the results too.

But of course…

As someone with expertise in change management, I get the theory in spades. People don’t like change. They especially don’t like change that they believe affects them and over which they were not consulted. I’d talked in broad terms about going redder but had not discussed any specific plans with my kids. As my daughter said, “it would be different if I’d known you were going to the salon today.” People like to be informed if there is change on the horizon, no matter how small that change might be. I had underestimated how such a minor change to me (I can always change it back, I figured) might be so major to my kids. My daughter likes it when people point out how similar we look and she feared she might be losing that. My son is big on stability and relies on me looking the same when I pick him up from school as I did when I dropped him off. To me, it was “just hair colour” but to them it was something more.

It reminded me of how our local newspaper reacted to the closing of Target Canada.

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“Oakville store among 133 Target closes in Canada,” the headline read. When I first saw it, it made me chuckle. Well of course the Oakville store is closing: Target is closing all the Canadian stores. It’s not like Target is deliberately targeting (!) Oakville. But Oakville loved its Target store. The mall where the Target is located is renovating based on Target’s presence. Lots of Oakville residents were employed by the chain. So for Oakville, losing our Target store feels personal. It feels like we are somehow being singled out even when we aren’t, and we can only think of the change in terms of how it it feels to us.

In my book, Engage the Fox, I talk about the importance of stakeholder involvement at all stages of the decision making process if it is important that the stakeholders embrace the decision. Sometimes involvement is not possible such as in the case of Target (layoffs rarely take into account the feelings of the employees because the ex-employees are no longer stakeholders.) Sometimes involvement is possible such as in the case of my hair. If you need to have stakeholder cooperation in order to make a decision work, those stakeholders need to be engaged from the beginning and feel they are part of the process.  This is critical for small decisions as well as for major ones.

Had I involved my kids in the process, it would have made the change more fun for them. And when I greeted them in the car, they’d likely have been excited rather than shocked and appalled. I would not have had doubts about my decision based on their reaction. It was a great reminder that even when we understand change theory well, it’s important to put that knowledge to to work in all parts of our lives. That way, we won’t be surprised when people do not react the way we expect them to in decisions both large and small.