Change Management Step 7: Operate at the 4th Level of Change

We have four options we can choose from in handling change. First, we can resist change and struggle to cope with the situation. Second, we could decide that we’ll merely comply with what’s happening, passively accepting change but failing to offer meaningful support. A third option is to capitalize on change when it comes our way, trying to capture potential benefits it brings. Finally, we might create change on purpose, using it as our tool of choice to favorably shape our future.

Level 1: Cope
People operating at the first level of change display a “victim mentality.” They often act helpless and dependent, wasting emotional energy on resistance, anger, blamefulness, or fear. Their focus is on problems instead of solutions. They talk about how hard things are and why they can’t make it work. Since people in the coping mode tend to focus on the negatives and disengage, productivity drops. The organization loses momentum. Energy and attention get diverted away from business and toward “me issues”—that is, toward concerns about how one might be affected personally by the changes. Instead of aligning with change and making a positive contribution, people at Level 1 try to protect the status quo. This damages both personal and organizational effectiveness.

Level 2: Comply
People at the second level of change exhibit an “adjustment mentality.” They may not like what’s going on, yet they spend some energy accommodating the change. They’re only accepting the inevitable, but at least this makes them less of a drag on the organization. The main problem, of course, is that in merely complying they do little to help drive the change. Level 2 people resign themselves to the situation and try to adapt, but beyond that they contribute nothing to making change succeed.

Level 3: Capitalize
People at the third level of change have an “opportunity mentality.” Here the mindset is to capitalize on change. Level 3 performers try to make the best of the situation and find the benefits. Change is actively embraced and people accept personal responsibility. Nevertheless, Level 3 remains a reactive mode. At least these people are looking for the bright side of things, though, with the idea that the cloud of change may have a silver lining. The capitalizers align quickly and readily contribute to the change effort.

Level 4: Create
Level 4 performers are proactive, not reactive. They create change—on purpose—preemptively causing it to happen rather than waiting until it’s forced upon them. In these people we see a “possibilities mentality.” They initiate change, using it as a tool to fix problems, pursue opportunities, and be the architect of their future. People at Level 4 don’t look at change as a problem, but as a solution. This mindset fires up imagination, resourcefulness, and experimentation. The fourth level of change reflects a spirit of curiosity and openness to learning. People deliberately set forth to do things differently—to innovate—because they believe creating change will give them an edge.

Position yourself here, because Level 4 is the success zone.

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