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2.2.2 Understanding Change - Claes Janssen’s Four-Roomed Apartment

Change – or more precisely – fear of change.

Two patients in the same hospital undergo the same operation.  In one case, the operating surgeon visits the patient beforehand and tells him how he will feel when he comes out of the anaesthetic.  “You will probably be in some pain, feel incredibly thirsty and very hung over.  You’ll also be constipated.  But don’t worry, it’s all perfectly normal”.

The second patient receives no such briefing.

Both patients experience the same symptoms after their operations but their reactions are very different.  The one who knew what to expect thought to himself – “Well I’ve got all the symptoms that I was told about so I guess the operation must have gone according to plan”.  In contrast the second patient with exactly the same symptoms is lying there in a high state of anxiety wondering exactly the opposite.

The moral of this story is that much of the resistance to change is based on the fear of the unknown and if people know that their reaction to change is normal, their resistance may be reduced. Claes Janssen, a Swedish social psychologist, saw the individual, the workgroup, the department or even the whole company as living in a four- roomed apartment.

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The rooms are labelled Contentment, Denial, Confusion and Renewal.  Individuals, groups and companies circulate through these rooms - on a continuous basis these days.  You might spend a lot of time in each room but once you have moved into the next one, you can’t go back.

So what are the implications of this metaphor for change when you are the person managing it or on the receiving end?

Room of Contentment - I like it just the way it is!

It is estimated that 70% of us are passive about change.  We will change but only if we are given convincing reasons for its necessity and understand what we will experience as a consequence.  It’s not sufficient that we are told why a hip replacement is necessary – we also need to be told about the symptoms that we will experience after the operation.

Feeling “in on things” is not only a powerful motivator but constantly updating your staff about the environment in which your organisation operates and changes that might be necessary helps staff come to the realisation that remaining in the Room of Contentment is not forever.

Organisations that remain blissfully unaware of the approaching storm sometimes do not survive.  If they do, change is often violent and sudden.

Room of Denial - Things will get better!

When we are confronted with situations that potentially limit our stay in the Room of Contentment, all of us will practice denial to some degree.  It’s just a temporary drop in sales.  I don’t think this new technology will catch on.  Our customers are too loyal to change.  That competitor can’t continue to charge that price – they’ll either be out of business in a year or they’ll raise their prices.  Our customer service makes up for our quality.

Once you as manager are prepared to move out of Denial, you need to help others to do so. 

This may sound obvious but what normally happens is that you rush off into the Room of Confusion, shut the door and start looking at options for the future – forgetting that you can’t go back.  You then go back to your people, announce hip replacements for everyone and wonder why so few share your enthusiasm for the brilliant strategy that you have formulated and which your people are now charged to implement.

Once you are ready to leave the Room of Denial, your first task is to help others to come to the same realisation.

How?  Give support, raise awareness of the situation, and tell them how you felt, ask questions.

Room of Confusion - What a mess!

We all harbour the desire to have the insight to formulate the solution to a problem the moment we recognise and accept it.  Unfortunately, even if we had that ability, deciding what it to be done is only half a solution.  The hard part is making it happen – implementation.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in her book “The Change Masters” said of change that “it’s exhilarating when done by us, disturbing when done to us”.

So that means getting people together in the Room of Confusion, workshopping the issue, looking at different options, listening to opposing point of view, accepting anger and frustration.  In short – confusion.  But if everyone in that room knows what to expect – pain, thirst, constipation – they will recognise that confusion is a necessary step towards opening the door through to the Room of Renewal.

How does one manage the Room of Confusion?

Turn as quickly as possible to focusing on the future but accept that initially people will want to play the blame game.  How did we get ourselves into this mess?  Who’s responsible?

Room of Renewal - We can turn this around!

If lying on the beach sunbaking represents Contentment and the realisation that you are getting too hot and must go for a surf but the water’s cold and you left your wetsuit behind is Denial, then Confusion is being battered by the shore break. Once through the shore break and out in the take-off zone – then you are in the Room of Renewal.  It is exhilarating – and it can be frightening – but there’s a sense of purpose, the presence of goals and strategies for achieving them. 

In this Room your role as manager is to provide support for implementation, make sure everyone knows their role, provide feedback on progress against agreed objectives and keep a weather eye out the back for that rogue set that might derail the best laid plans and make your stay in the Room of Contentment a very brief one!        

I’m not suggesting that following this model will make your organisation or yourself a master of change management, able to execute change with minimum pain and no casualties.  After all, despite being “normal”, our two patients’ symptoms were still unpleasant and complications might have set in later.  One might have suffered a staph infection and died as a consequence.  Similarly with individuals’ reactions to change. 

A very small percentage will want to make their stay in the Room of Contentment a very brief one – they love change and become bored without it.  Others will actively resist change and seek to sabotage it.  But the great majority – 70% - although passive towards change will change given convincing reasons to do so.

Understanding which Room each of them is in and knowing the appropriate strategies to employ that will allay their fears and involve them in the change program will do much to hasten everyone’s arrival in the Room of Renewal.

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