Backing into the Future: 4 Ways to Make Change Work

Last week, we celebrated “Back to the Future Day.”  The day to which Marty McFly and Doc Brown set the time machine at the end of the movie Back to the Future:  October 21st, 2015.  The day came and went without mass market hover boards or funny futuristic clothing, but it brought to mind to me the strained relationship we have with the future and the change it implies.  And how often, like Marty, we are swept into the future without a strategy for making change happen, and instead let it happen to us.  In short, we back into the future, instead of diving in with purpose and resolve.  This kind of drama is great for the movies, but is difficult for our organizations and teams.

Below are four ways that you make change work in your organizations to take maximum advantage of changing conditions, business circumstances, or technological advancements.

1.       Give Up Nostalgia

The “good ol’ days” of how things used to be, weren’t always so good, so make sure your memories don’t take on mythic proportions.  In the movie, Marty was told his Dad was a pedestrian hit by a car and that caused Marty’s Mom to notice him, when the truth was something slightly different than that (I won’t spoil it for you, in case you need to watch the show again).  Unlike in the movie, you can’t go back to the way things used to be, and even if you did, the past may not be entirely as you remember or how it has been depicted by others.  The past is warmly familiar, but let’s not forget that it had problems.  Problems that prompted solutions we now rely on and take for granted.  You have to be willing to agree that change is inevitable, and possibly good, to be able to move forward.

2.       Listen to Yourself

As you face periods of uncertainty and change, don’t neglect or downplay your emotional reactions.  Although irrational and impulsive, they will often identify some underlying risk or unrealized opportunity.  Your gut is trying to tell you something.  When that happens, get curious.  In your curiosity, note what you are feeling and why.  Bréne Brown in her book Rising Strong, talks about writing out a SFD (“shitty first draft” - her words, not mine) to describe how you feel and why.  Reading that private description back, you can see more clearly the flawed logic and alarmism and focus on the facts you need to pay more attention to next.

3.       Listen to Others

Everyone has a different tolerance to change.  As vocal and unapologetic optimist, even I can tell you that there isn’t one approach that is best.  Because risk mitigation begins with risk identification, the most positive and fluid in your organization might not be the best at helping you face the future prepared.  Inspired, perhaps, but not fully prepared.  So, get the most conservative members of your team to envision the future.  Facing forward in this way, listen to their concerns.  Listen not to change their mind, but to pick their brains.  You’ll be better for it.

4.       Take Heart: It’s the People that Matter

We often talk about technology changing or evolving. At the most basic level, however that isn’t true.  One technology generation actually replaces or supplants another making the previous obsolete; this is especially true in the disruptive developments that shape industries and create tipping points.  From covered wagons to Uber.  From encyclopedias in the reference section of the library to the Internet.  The same is true of disruptive business models, market conditions that set new standards of performance, or even changing customer sentiment.  The generations of technology may play leap frog, but the people are the ones that make the mental jump.  Only people change with the circumstances and evolve.  And there we find our comfort and our challenge.  Because people, like us, have been proven to be highly irrational, cruel, and fear-driven.  And we have shown ourselves to be generous, adaptable, and capable of radical change.  How we show up in the midst of change at work depends a lot on the leadership and how we are given opportunity to listen to ourselves and others, permission to loosen our grip on the past and our stories around it, and how we take care of each other in the process of change, knowing that our relationships are the things that endure.

The future might not look like the scenes from the movies, but as we move through different time periods, circumstances, and use different technologies, the characters are the same. Biff Tannen, George McFly, and all the other characters in Back to the Future showed how circumstances can bring out the best (and worst) in our personalities.  Whether it was 1955, 1985, or 2015, the choices that we make are strikingly similar because we ourselves bring ourselves along for the ride.  So, when the credits roll, make sure you are the character that chooses to face the future facing forward.

This article was published on LinkedIn Pulse