Farrar's Faucet: A psychologist’s candid, productive and often humorous take on principled business behavior and better business outcomes.

Fight Or Flight? What About The Other Five F's?

This is a short summary of the presentation I made to the Twin Cities Human Resources Association’s Spring Conference. The turnout
was excellent. As a speaker I really appreciated the organization and audience interest.

The conference theme was “Leveraging Human Capital During the Economic Recovery”. I promised the audience my perspective on what it takes to successfully get the best out of people during times of change, stress and opportunity.

Here are the three key slides from my presentation:

Here is the first key to successfully helping people with change and challenges: Understand the level at which you are operating. We talked about how many people are brought in to be “Change Managers” without clear, shared expectations about roles and responsibilities.

The slide at the top of this post outlines the three sets of change management skills, (content, people and roadmap), and the three sets of change analysis, (organization, group and individual).

One side-bar discussion centered on the change management skills. On most change projects there is a name for the person with the content knowledge. They are called the Subject Matter Expert, (SMI). There’s also a name for the road map expert. They’re called the Project Manager, (PM).

Unfortunately there isn’t a commonly used name for the “people expert”, which means the role is often overlooked or undervalued. In line with the theme of the conference we proposed calling them the “Human Capital Partner”, (HCP).

All significant change projects that require more than one person should have someone who fulfills the roles of SMI, PM and HCP, and there should be clear expectations around the level at which they are expected to operate and manage change.

Here is the second key to successfully helping people with change and challenges: Acknowledge and respond appropriately to people’s reactions. This sounds obvious, but the truth is that some people have no understanding of how people respond to change or challenges.

Sometimes change leaders assume everyone responds the way they do, or they assume everyone should respond the way they do. Other times change leaders are sucked into believing that people will react to a stressor or significant change with the classic “fight or flight” response, and the only thing to do is let them get over it and move on.

There are actually at least five other typical responses, including freeze, faint, fumble and fidget. In the presentation I talked about the classic freeze response, which is where someone is so overcome with the impact of the change that they are incapable of producing a sensible response, and end up doing nothing until they are forced into action. Faint, fumble and fidget can be equally ineffective, yet you see examples of them all the time in people’s immediate responses to stressors and change.

The appropriate response is to use the Basic Interpersonal Skills, and help them over time to the fifth F: Focus. The right response in almost every circumstance is to focus on the few things with the most impact on a better future and the path to get there.

This is the third key to successfully helping people with change and challenges: Systematically guide them through the change process.

Here’s a dirty little secret. Some consultants and experts want to sell you their unique perspective on human behavior and their “patented change model”. This is going to make me unpopular with some of those people. Here is the truth we know from many studies and much practical experience: people generally follow a predictable path when dealing with change and transitions.

You can see the path in the diagram. There is a “Flight or Fight” zone, (which we know actually includes the other five F’s), a process of acceptance with the change, which involves self-concern and a search for meaning and options, and finally an internalization period, which involves testing and exploration, and finally ownership of the changed state.

If you understand the change process you can guide people through it successfully. For example, don’t bother trying to train people or get them to take ownership of a change until you have dealt with the issues of self-concern and anxiety. At a deeper level, there is a right time for broadcast emails from the CEO and roadshows of the new system, and a right time for process training and the introduction of job-aids. You had better know which is which!

Many thanks to the Twin Cities Human Resources Association for hosting the event and the invitation to speak; Jason Kujanen and Kathy Kacher, (Conference Chair Lead and Conference Co-Chair), for their excellent organization skills; SueLynn Junkert for being a great master of ceremonies for my session, (she introduced me in a very flattering way, and she asked about my dogs!), and the engaged and involved audience for coming along and offering their insights and challenging questions.

1 comment:

David Farrar said...

Here's a fun follow up to "Flight or Fight". Some animals have learned that when faced with the need to change the situation or respond to a threat the correct response can be to "Feign some Fear".