The Challenges of Change

I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.
–Jennifer Unlimited

The second “Vitamin C” of the emotionally healthy workplace is CHALLENGE. The emotionally healthy worker sees possibilities for change when problems are encountered in the workplace. These individuals can find opportunity in crises and are optimistic about the future even when problems are encountered. They are committed to continuous learning and rising to excellence in every business situation. They are able to do this by igniting positive motivations for action from within and making wise decisions that keep them moving forward toward their goals.

Fred stared at the numbers for the tenth time. It was hard to comprehend how terrible the bottom line looked since September 11th. A year ago business was better than it had ever been; now he was barely making expenses. He knew he had to take action. His competitors, facing the same drop off in income, had begun drastic layoffs. Fred was saddened by that option. He believed he had a dedicated and professional group of employees and he worried that layoffs would only hurt the future of the company. Business would pick up again and he wanted to retain the experience and expertise of his employees. Then he had an idea. He would have to tighten the budgets and ask everyone to make sacrifices if the organization was going to make it through this tough time. He did not want to resort to layoffs, so he would have to ask everyone to join him in sharing the economic pain. He hesitated as he thought about implementing this decision. Then he took out his legal pad and his pen. He took the first step toward resolving his uncertainty and making plan work. He created a “pro” and “con” list for taking action.

Think of a problem currently facing you. Select a problem which will require an action on your part to resolve. What is the action you need to take to resolve this problem? Now make a list of “pros” and “cons” for taking this action (i.e., what are the benefits for taking this action versus what are the obstacles that prevent you from taking action).

For example, here are a few items from Fred’s list:

Action: Fred has decided he must address the company employees and ask them to take a 5% reduction in pay, including everyone in the company from owner to maintenance worker.

(benefits for taking action)

(obstacles to action)


I am committed to keeping all my employees working


The employees will not appreciate this, they will resent the request

I need to take an active, not reactive approach to solving this problem

This may not solve the problem, and then I will be in even worse financial trouble

Solving this problem will make it easier to solve the next problems

The economic crisis is too extreme. Nothing I do will make a real difference

If I try, and do not succeed, at least I will have learned something

I don’t want to look like a failure to my peers or my competitors

Which list is more compelling for you; your “pro” list or your “con” list? In other words, are you more likely to be persuaded by your reasons for taking action? Or are you more likely to be prevented from acting because you are convinced of the validity of the “cons” on your list? Fred decided to go ahead with his plan. He was convinced the benefits were real and the obstacles were not insurmountable.

This exercise provides a valuable insight into an important dimension of an emotionally healthy workplace: individuals are able to re-cast “problems” as “challenges” that are able to be met and overcome. These workers are convinced that taking action to resolve problems will be effective and successful. They are able to reduce, circumvent or eliminate the roadblocks to change.

In the process of change, those who successfully turn problems into challenges typically find the “pro” list to be about twice as long and/or twice as compelling as the “con” list. At the outset, when the problem is first considered, the “pros” and “cons” are frequently even or the “cons” may even be more persuasive. But for those who are able to turn problems into possibilities for growth, the balance changes over time. First the benefits for taking action are considered and strengthened. Later, the obstacles are addressed.

Typically individuals who explore the problems in the workplace to discover a way to see these as challenges that can be overcome start on the “pro” (reasons to undertake actions that will lead to change) side of the list and attempt to add more reasons for making the change and find reasons to make them more convincing first.

If you feel you are stuck and you know you need to take action to make a positive change, work on the “pro” side of your list first. Brainstorm the reasons why you should take this action. Focus on the benefits to you.

At this early stage, the “con” side of the list usually remains relatively unchanged among those who are moving toward effective action. There are real obstacles to change and those obstacles are acknowledged and understood. However, it is not productive to attempt to resolve those obstacles until the positive motivations for change is clearly articulated. If you are aware of a change you need to make, but are not ready to take action, you will be most effective by working on positive motivations before you begin to invest time and energy trying to overcome the obstacles. It is the “pro” side of the equation that gives energy and creativity for action.

The “con” side action is best tackled right before the action is about to begin. For a major challenge, the most intensive effort to reduce the impact of the obstacles may occur within one to two weeks of initiating the change. For less substantial changes, the “cons” may be addressed only days or even hours prior to taking action. In successful changs, however, the obstacles must be addressed. It is very unproductive to attempt action without a plan for dealing with barriers to the change.

It is NOT necessary to eliminate all barriers as a condition for taking action. Emotionally healthy workers will eliminate some “cons,” reduce the impact of others and may even choose to ignore some hindrances to action because the positive reasons for change are more important than the blockades that are set up.

Those who see “challenges” rather than “problems” often engage in actions that seem to be inadequate to the enormity of the predicament they are facing. The odds are against them. And they beat the odds with surprising regularity.

Here are some strategies that effective challengers use to be successful in making positive change:

Turn away from old behavior.

Effective changers are willing to let go of what does not work. This can be very difficult. It is tempting to keep trying what we have always tried. If it does not work, we want to try harder (or louder)! If we are going to engage in positive change, we need to stop what does not work, even if it can be difficult because we do not have a certain path of action that will replace the non-productive action we leave behind.

Make Change a Priority.

Turning “problems” into “challenges” only happens when we make an intentional change. This is a conscious process that requires a firm decision and a willingness to persevere in action until the outcome is secure.

Make Tough Choices.

There is no easy change. When we need to address a problem and take an action that will resolve the issue, it requires a willingness to make decision and establish a commitment to stay with it until the end. Although emotional healthy workplaces are sometimes seen as “soft” skills, being effective can require as much courage and effort as anything in the workplace.

Take small steps.

When challenges are undertaken, it is often necessary to break a large task into small steps. What do I do first? What comes next? This process provides direction to the action.

Set a date.

Anxiety about change makes it easy to put off. Those who are serious about change will determine a time to start and hold themselves accountable to that date.

Go Public.

Sometimes, if a challenge is a difficult one, it can be useful to tell key people who will both support the change and provide accountability. It can be helpful to know that someone else is “on our side” as we undertake an important action.

These strategies are used by emotionally healthy workers and fostered in emotionally healthy workplaces to meet and overcome the inevitable problems that arise during the workday.