Change ... A love and hate relationship

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chad Vaughn
  • Sheppard Air Force Base NCO Academy
What Does Everyone Love to Hate? Change! The more pressing question is why do most people hate change?

There are some people who love change, and embrace it as an opportunity to break from the "norm." Those people are mature in the change process and are considered to have adaptability. Adaptability is the capability to adjust to uncertain circumstances by actively requesting material and displaying an openness and support to different ideas and methods.

The requesting and receiving information is where things usually go wrong in the change process. As an NCO Academy instructor, I often ask my students if they ask why when a change comes down from the Chief or Commander. Very few say yes and most responses relate to, "Good Technical Sergeants don't ask why." This is very true, but wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to ask or wonder why?

I personally feel that you shouldn't have to ask why. It should be told to you by the change sponsor. (A change sponsor is someone who has position power and initiates change). That change is usually carried out by the change agent, usually NCOs, shift leads and instructor supervisors. It mostly impacts the change-targets who are wondering, "Why is this happening?" or "Things are fine just the way they are."

The sponsor needs to provide the agent with enough information to implement, monitor and prevent relapse to the old ways. A subordinate may not like the change and fight it, but if given the reason, such as an AFI or policy change or possibly an equipment upgrade, the reason is known. This demonstrates it is not just change for the sake of changing; rather it has purpose and value attached. If we leave off the "why," change may be more hectic and cause commotion on our schedules. 

Having an established routine is the way many of us like to live our lives. Introducing change to our routine often causes stress. This may result in people initially discounting change, hoping it will go away or fail.

Some people feel if they resist or ignore the change it will be less stressful, but that is not the case. This is a waste of time, money and effort, all of which in today's Air Force we cannot afford to squander.

Once resistance stops, and although maybe not popular, the change is accepted. Then it moves to becoming the "norm" and eventually it is embraced as the new routine. This cycle can move very quickly or be stalled and take additional time.

One way to cycle through the processes more quickly is with education. If you give people the "why," up front it can be a huge factor in direction and motivation. Many times the "why" takes about five to 10 extra minutes. I believe spending the extra time to give someone the knowledge can save you tenfold in the long run.

Elton Mayo, psychologist and a founder of the organizational behavior field, breaks down the levels of change as: knowledge, attitude, individual behavior and group behavior. If you start with knowledge and work upwards, change will be easier to achieve. Give someone education and you can change their attitude, change attitude and you change an individual's behavior. If one can change many individual's behaviors they impact group behavior, this relates to participative change.

Participative change allows people to be involved in the process. Allow someone to be involved in the process and they in-turn sell the idea as the best idea ever, because they have ownership. As military members and government employees, we normally see from the top down or directive change. This starts from the top and immediately impacts the group and rarely makes it to the knowledge phase.

Don't get me wrong, at times directive change is needed; it works, it is fast and has immediate results. However, if there is time, participative change should be used. It will imbed the change deeper into the organization and produce a more positive result. By giving change-targets opportunities and allowing their input with the process it will give ownership. This is one of many ways to lock in the method. 
There will always be people who try to stall change or flat out refuse to conform. What do you do with those people? Not much. Once change has taken root it is, "A get on the aircraft or get left mentality," they will eventually conform or get left behind.

Spend your time on the trendsetters to get your change embedded in the organization, challenge resistors with projects to motivate and give them a part of the process. Tell people where and how they fit in the Big Blue machine and give updates on how the change is working and what impact they are having in making it happen.

We are a technology based Air Force and with the rate at which technology progresses, the Air Force will always be on the forefront of change. We can fight it or embrace it and save the time, money and energy our service needs as we get smaller and smaller. When it comes to change just remember what my daughter tells me, "Without change, there would be no butterflies and everyone loves butterflies daddy."