Rachel Letby, Director at Crail Consulting, discusses why February can be such a challenging time personally and professionally to instigate lasting change.

“The start of a new year is often the time when we decide to live life differently. This for many can mean setting New Year’s resolutions: join that gym; give up alcohol for a month; avoid those chocolates left over from Christmas. We have so much faith that we can do it! Oh, the optimism!

“Then February comes along; the dark nights continue, the temptation to finish those left over chocolates becomes unbearable and the enthusiasm we had for all those new year’s resolutions rapidly diminishes. It all seems such hard work; drudgery even. It’s so easy to give up at this stage. The hope and optimism of a new year gives way to pessimism.

“The same can be said when you’re trying to make changes at work. At first, there’s often a gung-ho feeling – “yes, we can make this happen. Not a problem!” Then reality sets in and to our disappointment we find it is harder than we thought it was going to be. What we call the ‘emotional cycle of change’ makes sense of this.

“It describes how the initial “honeymoon” phase leads inexorably to informed pessimism. However given time, it should lead to informed optimism – “yes, we’ve broken the back of this. We can see success in sight.”

“The key word in that last sentence though is ‘should’. This second phase of ‘informed pessimism’ is usually where change programmes falter or even fail. It all becomes too hard and too much effort.

“However being aware of it means that it can be addressed. Planning is key to this. When the change programme within your company, organisation or department is being planned, it’s worth stepping back and asking yourself: “Where and when are we going to struggle?” You can identify what can be done to address this and then plan what to do, before it happens. This may require you to engage your key stakeholders earlier in the programme than you had initially envisaged, so that you have their support during this time.

“Identifying and implementing ‘Quick Wins’ can also help. ‘Quick Wins’ are changes requiring little effort. They don’t distract you from the main thrust of the programme, but are just enough to show that change is in progress.

“A word of warning though – sometimes what seems like an easy win, isn’t! Beware of so-called ‘Quick Wins’ that involve organisational politics or changes in status. We once tried to remove the Executive car parking at a client’s car park. Executive car parking made no sense other than to reinforce status. Its removal would mean those working on a night shift could quickly walk to their car and would send a strong message out to the organisation that change was happening. It never happened. The Executive had initially agreed to the idea but when it came to making it happen, they wriggled and wriggled. They were willing to make the big, de-personalised decisions but this was a decision impacting them that was too early in the life of the programme.

“Finally – attitude. We Brits have a tendency to see the negativity before the positive. It’s about our attitude. If you go looking for issues then you’ll find them, often at the expense of what is going well. It’s so easy when you’re tired and perhaps have had a knock back. A theologian, J. Sidlow Baxter, once said:

“What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? Our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.”

“So, please keep that positive focus, plan ahead and look for ‘Quick Wins’ to implement. You’ll then minimise the period and depth of informed pessimism and move more rapidly through to informed optimism. From there, only success!

“Good luck!”

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