Unslumping: Insights from Dr. Seuss About Managing Change
Change occurs at 3 levels of our lives: societal, organizational, and personal. The world news is filled with stories of societal change that we hear daily—the impact of Covid-19, political elections, public unrest, natural disasters, global warming and the economic fallout of it all. Organizations are also in a constant state of flux as a result. And all these changes can and do dramatically affect our personal lives along with other changes that may impact us by way of family and friends.
Whether good or bad, change can be quite unsettling. William Bridges, author of the book, “Transitions” as well as, “Managing Organizational Transitions,” referred to change as having three phases: Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings.
In listening to a wonderful presentation by Deborah Paus, a Human Resources & Organizational Effectiveness consultant some years ago, it would seem that in the book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” Dr. Seuss, also refers to change in a very similar way to William Bridges. Dr. Seuss refers to change as the “Lurch,” a beautifully descriptive word that conjures up an image of how change initially throws us off balance causing us to reel or stagger. And he presents the three phases of change as:
- The Slump in the Bump
- The Waiting Place
The Slump in the Bump (Endings)
When change occurs, whether it’s societal, organizational, or personal we usually experience feelings of loss, grief and/or anger. And, as Dr Seuss explains, “When you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun.” At this time, it’s important to process feelings and reflect on and share key experiences and legacies to recognize that the time has come to move on.
Whether we are dealing with change at a societal, organizational, or personal level, we must accept this initial phase and allow for it. On an organizational level, it may mean honoring the past and providing staff the opportunity to say goodbye to someone leaving or to the “old way of doing things”. On a personal level, it may mean giving ourselves time for closure—to say goodbye to the past and move on at our own pace.
The Waiting Place (the Neutral Zone)
On the change journey, the Waiting Place is inevitable; it’s a place as Dr. Seuss describes, where “Everyone is just waiting.” It’s the most feared, fun, uncertain, creative, lonely, and crowded place; a place where uncertainty and fear resides. Everyone is just waiting to see what might happen next and because there is emotional ambiguity, people are looking for direction and structure. They may revert to operating by guiding principles or may tighten or loosen structure for how they work through their day-to-day work.
At this stage, communication is extremely important—to provide a common “touch point” or connection for people. On a personal level, the Waiting Place is the time to reach out to family and friends regularly in a safe manner and stay connected, even when we may not have any news to share. And for parents to tune into their children’s fears and feelings. When we are going through change, we may need someone to support and guide us; someone to whom we may express our feelings and who can help us figure out our next steps.
On an organizational level, the Waiting Place may require staff to have access to a Change Steering Committee who can be the “touch point” for change. On a personal level, when we are going through change, we may need someone to support and guide us; someone to whom we may express our feelings and who can help us figure out our next steps.
Un-slumping (New Beginnings)
Un-slumping is the point when people are ready to move-on from their “Waiting Place.” They are finally ready to open themselves up to new experiences; ready to escape from “all the waiting and staying” and as Dr. Seuss describes, “You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.”
With readiness for a new beginning, we can now think more positively about the future and its possibilities. And as Dr. Seuss teaches us, we are now ready to realize that “There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And all the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.” This is because we now feel part of something “new” and are looking for new opportunities.
However, at this stage comes a new challenge; to rebuild our sense of “mastery” in this new, changed environment. We want to feel that we are on solid ground and capable of transitioning from the “old” to the “next.” This phase of change has its tough moments and there are times when we’ll feel alone, scared, and discouraged. There’s a steep learning curve for us to be able to adapt and evolve through our new, changed world.
For organizational change, this is the stage where coaching, training and such strategies are necessary to allow people to gain mastery in their new, changed work environment. Un-slumping your team usually requires goal setting and strategies to ensure alignment with a changed organizational vision. For personal change journeys, it may be time for personal counselling, education or other strategies to help us adapt to the new way of life.
Change is inevitable; it’s part of life. Once conscious of the change process, we can choose to think differently about how we react to it: as a critic, bystander, victim, or navigator. So, will you succeed? The odds, according to Dr. Seuss, are good: “Yes! You will, indeed….you’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!”