In Part 1 of this series, I talked about change demand and how it can create overload. In Part 2, I will focus on the sources of change demand.
Any place there is a gap between expectations and reality, change demand occurs. This means that change demand can come from some unexpected places:
Positive and negative. Although we tend to focus most of our attention on the demand that comes from changes we perceive to be negative, changes that appear to be positive also require the expenditure of physical, mental, and emotional energy to adjust. If you’ve ever bought a house, raised a child, won the lottery, entered into a committed relationships, or moved to your dream location, you know what I’m talking about! (In addition to that, we sometimes label events as positive or negative when we may really never know how they will ultimately help or hinder us. Here’s an interesting blog entry on that topic.)
Voluntary and involuntary. When we think of demanding changes, we often focus primarily on those things that are out of our control–where something happened, or someone did something, that we now have to respond to. And while these low- or no-control situations are often more demanding, it’s important to remember that we sometimes choose to initiate changes or actions that create demand. For instance, the choice to enter the military will place an individual in quite a few situations in which there is a large gap between reality and one’s expectations or desires. Traveling, especially to unfamiliar places, is another example of where we deliberately place ourselves in situations where we will encounter the unexpected. Taking a new job, leaving home to go to college, starting a business…all of these are voluntary actions that can increase the level of change we encounter. (As a side note, these choices can help us build change muscles that will serve us as we encounter the involuntary challenges that life often brings–look for a future blog post on this topic!)
Although much of our focus in Part 1 was on work-related changes, demand can come from both work and non-work settings.
Workplace demand. The most visible source of change-related demand in the workplace is planned organizational initiatives. When an organization undertakes a merger, implements new technology, restructures departments or divisions, conducts layoffs, or begins any of a number of other programs or projects, individuals experience some form of expectation/reality gap that they must expend physical, mental, and/or emotional energy to close.
There are other sources of change demand in the workplace as well. Unexpected events, such as the illness or death of a coworker, a power outage, a weather event that affects travel, create disruption and the need to adapt. New work assignments, even if they are part of the standard way of doing business, can create short-term demand as individuals work to assimilate knowledge of unfamiliar aspects of a project. Irate customers can drain emotional resources. Interruptions and aggravating co-workers can create expectation/reality gaps that also consume resources. Each of these demands may be small, but they can add up to a significant drain on individual energy.
Personal-life demand. Life outside of work contains so many potential sources of change-related demand that it is difficult to even begin to list them all. Illness, accidents, and natural disasters are obvious examples. Life events affecting oneself or family members such as marriage, graduation, the birth of a child, or a move can also create the need to adapt. Unexpected events such as a flat tire, the breakup of a relationship, the death of a loved one or a treasured pet, a fire, and even a financial windfall such as a lottery win or an inheritance, consume energy as well.
On top of this are the changes that affect the organizations and groups we belong to, including such things as the announcement of a plan to build a shopping center down the street, a scandal affecting the leader of a religious organization, and the departure of a beloved teacher at our child’s school.
Finally, there are changes that affect much larger groups in our society and in the world at large. Political unrest, changes in economic conditions, epidemics, and other widespread factors also create disruptions at the individual level.
I invite you to stop and take an inventory of all the things going on in your life right now, large and small, that are in some way a departure from your expectations, your plans, your predictable routine. Each of these is a contributor to change demand. When you encounter a new change, it is this cumulative level of demand from all sources that will influence whether you have the energy needed to adapt or whether you will move into a state of overload.
Implications for organizations. In a future post I will talk more about what organizations and practitioners can do to minimize and manage change demand, but for now I will simply point out that the fact that demand comes from multiple sources means that there is a great deal of change demand that is not within the control of the organization. People come to work already engaged in adapting to changes outside the workplace, and the energy they have available for workplace changes is affected accordingly.
Implications for individuals. Probably the biggest implication for individuals of recognizing the many sources of change demand is acknowledging that change, the process of adaptation, and the associated demands on our physical, mental, and emotional energy, are normal parts of our world. This means that we can begin to become more aware of the small and large disruptions we encounter, the level of cumulative demand we are facing, and the places where we are deliberately inviting the unexpected into our lives. And we can become more mindful of the processes by which we move through disruption and realign expectations and reality.
In Part 3 of this series I will focus on the magnitude of change demand.