Grieving the old is necessary for embracing the new

Old habits die hard. As we begin training our agency to take full advantage of the new processes and tools we’re putting in place to meet our industry’s challenges in the new economy and the Social Age, I’m reminded of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.  While our colleagues are supportive and most recognize the need for substantive change, Dr. Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief are very applicable to our agency’s adoption process.

  1. Denial:  In certain circles, there have been whispers that this is just the latest of many attempts over the years to fix what’s either not broken or or not so broken as to need replacing.  To a certain extent, there’s a mild air of”humor them and this, too, shall pass.”
  2. Anger:  Now, that we’re signing everyone up for a series of training classes, we’re encountering pockets of push back.  “Why do I have to take these classes?”  “I’m fine with the new process, but it doesn’t apply to me….”  “What’s wrong with the way we do it now?”  As we move from theory to practice, it’s understandable that now folks are paying attention—and might not be as comfortable with the changes as they thought.
  3. Bargaining:  I suspect that once we get through the training, we’ll hear from a lot of folks looking for exceptions or suggesting that our new processes don’t or shouldn’t apply to them.  We all think our circumstances are unique, but they rarely are.  Generally, with a little tweaking, old ways can shift seamlessly into the new.
  4. Depression:  I fully expect some sadness to set in as the new process takes hold.  We have a lot of great people who are pretty used to doing things in the manner that works best for them.  However, if we’re going to maintain our edge moving forward, we absolutely have to make sure everyone—from our CEO to our newest assistant AE—able to confidently perform against the same sheet of music.
  5. Acceptance:  Eventually, I think everyone will accept and embrace our new approach.  We have a great agency loaded with great minds.  Although change is difficult (and not without its hiccups, missteps and in-line enhancements), it is absolutely necessary.  As we move through the process, folks will accept what we’re up to.

Then comes the hard part:  changing individual behaviors to engrain the new process as a new, agency-wide habit.

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A Change is Gonna Come

I’m with Sam Cooke on this one.  For over a year, I’ve been working on a project that represents a massive sea change for our agency.  A fundamental, sweeping, no-turning-back kind of change that I’m not really sure even those who have been proponents thus far fully understand.  Fortunately, our boss does or I’d just save this post for reading at my plank walking (generally, change agents rapidly morph from gurus to pariahs when the changes are implemented).

So, as I spend this weekend working on the training that will make the promise of transformation an irrevocable reality, it dawns on me that the hard part hasn’t started yet.  Sure, giving up most of my nights and weekends for over a year to help ensure we pull this off cleanly has been exhausting—but absolutely worth it.  However, the first rays of the real hard part, the “I was behind this until I realized it impacts my job” part, are just now peeking over the horizon.

The marketing communications industry finds itself in a perfect storm of a jobless recovery (if, in fact, we’re actually in recovery), the dawning of the Social Age, the rise of the third screen (e.g., smartphones and iPads) and a new inquisitor near the head of the agency selection table (i.e., Procurement).

At the agency level, nobody survives this storm on his or her own.  If we cling to that piece of turf we thought was ours, we’re doomed.  “That’s my job” or “that’s my billable hour” absolutely has to be replaced by “how can I help today?” and “what do I need to learn for us to be successful?” or we’ll never navigate our way to calmer waters.

In any symbiotic environment, the organism dies if the symbiants enter self-preservation mode.  And if the organism dies, things don’t end too well for the symbiants either.  To survive, we have to be willing to surrender preconceptions and historical responsibilities.  We have to embrace the new challenges presented and trust that, for a change, good deeds will not only go unpunished but that the rewards on the other side of transformation are worth the effort, the uncertainty, the self-doubt and the short walk off the long pier.

Agencies that reconfigure to weather the perfect storm will emerge stronger, I believe.  And the marketers we serve will be all the more successful for it.

But first, a change is gonna come.  On behalf of change agents everywhere, please check your pitchforks and torches at the door.