Picture this scenario: You are charged with executing a new vision and strategy that offers the possibility of significantly improving the future of your company. Most people agree with the need for the big changes, yet they say things like, “It’s too much,” “we’re burned out, it will never work,” “we can’t deliver what’s needed now and make these changes,” etc. The big question is often not why, but how? As people begin to really come to grips with implementation and the changes in mindset, structure, reporting, and delivery required, the following experience unwittingly pervades and starts to take shape:

  • A sense of being disrupted;
  • An overwhelming feeling of discomfort; and
  • A mood of discontent.

Why does this often happen when big changes are in play?

Security: The state of being free from danger or threat.

As human beings, our natural tendency is to fear change. Change triggers our survival instinct. Our immediate reaction is often shaped by a need to keep in place what was (The Known) and resist or battle with the changes (The Unknown). Whether threats of change are real or imagined, external or internal, our unwitting drive is to seek out homeostasis–a state of relative stability—however incongruous that may be to growth and progress. But in today’s disruptive age where change has become the norm, this mythical state is becoming more and more elusive. Given that’s the case, how do we accept and even embrace change? And how do we as humans reconcile the new norm with our survival-based automatic behavior patterns?

The human reaction of Disruption, Discomfort, and Discontent comes along with making big changes. Bottom line: Change by its very nature is happening all the time and we tend to want to avoid it.

Over the past 40 years, JMW has been revealing to our clients that it’s their “unconscious drive for security” or better said—keeping what we know in place and avoiding what is unknown—that limits vision, strategy, execution and ultimately results. Creating new mindsets and providing people with the tools to execute and deliver a new future is what JMW does for its clients. We’ve helped create a different mindset around change and provided our clients with the tools and actions that have allowed their companies to go beyond their perceived limits, take on new challenges, and deliver extraordinary levels of performance and results.

We’ve helped our clients realize that what got them stuck and kept them stuck is not knowing how to deal effectively with the inevitable Disruption, Discomfort, and Discontent that ensues when confronted by change.

The 3 Ds that come along with real systemic change:

DISRUPTION: The disturbance or problems which interrupt events, activities, or process

DISCOMFORT: Feeling uneasy, anxious, and unsettled

DISCONTENT: Dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances, current situation, or future

Here’s how it seems to work: When people make and agree on commitments and challenges that require them to think and act beyond their history, culture, and capabilities, it creates disruption. Disruption in how business is done—currently and how it needs to be done for the future. This Disruption creates a sense of not knowing how to work and maneuver, and therefore brings people to the edge of their learning—Discomfort, and once that discomfort sets in a mood descends and pervades the environment—Discontent. 

Sound familiar? It’s not surprising that all three tend to come together. The impact of the 3 Ds produces a lack of focus, distraction, risks to safety, and weakness in performing, execution and delivery. Bottom line, a highly distracted workforce consumed with fear, trepidation and negative thinking causes people to check out both mentally and physically. It happens to even the best of us and it’s not a workforce issue, but rather a capability challenge.

Is the answer to stop taking on big challenges and making big commitments and promises?

Of course, one way to prevent the 3 Ds is to stop making big commitments in the first place. Without big commitments, there’s no pressure, but also no new achievements in performance and results. That’s certainly one path to take. Unfortunately, while that sounds okay, overall performance and motivation of people slowly erodes and decline is predictable. A much more productive path is to embrace the 3 Ds. Learn to deal effectively with the 3 Ds as access to results beyond the norm and to changes in culture and performance. That gives people and organizations a new future. Sure, it’s easier said than done, but having people become effective in dealing with this phenomenon is the way to go!

What are some tips to dealing with the 3 Ds powerfully?

  • Observe people’s reactions to change in this context and see what new insights it provides.
  • Consider that it is what people are experiencing in the face of change that needs to be addressed—not the people themselves.
  • Don’t forget that people want to see what you see. They want a future that is compelling and one that they can be passionate about—but they may need help getting their full selves in the game.

Big change, transformations, new structures/processes may all be good for the future, but if you don’t bring your people along with you, you’ll struggle to deliver on your promises. The key to a successful transformation is to develop a cadre of people who can traffic through disruption, discomfort, and discontent without a big crash.