Successful change management starts with recognizing the impact the change will have on the people involved. Understanding the significance of change from their perspective helps in identifying ways to gain acceptance and in making the transition smoother. A recent furniture buying exercise for my living room, brought home to me how seemingly insignificant changes can be epic for some.
My daughter Claire protested when I told her we were going to buy a new couch. “But I grew up with that couch. You can’t just get rid of it,” she said. At first I thought it was an unusual attachment to a red corduroy sofa for a 14-year old. But, I could see why she was so upset.
The story really started 13 years ago. We adopted Claire from China when she was a year old. On our last night before leaving China, we perched her on a red couch in the lobby of our hotel for a group picture with four other girls from her orphanage. Taking a group photo on that red couch had become a rite of passage for families adopting children from China.
Claire and the other girls teetered as if perched on a raft, as they sat waiting for the camera to click. They were not only physically wobbly, they were emotionally uncertain. We’d met our new daughters for the first time just a few days before, and removed them from the only home they’d known since being placed for adoption.
We were unsettled as well. We’d traveled across the world to get Claire and we were starting our lives together in a foreign land. The red couch was a springboard as we left China behind and embarked on our journeys as newly formed families.
A few years later, we bought our own red couch. I didn’t think about its color at the time; we just needed a sofa. Over the years, Claire watched cartoons on this couch, unwrapped Christmas presents on it, built forts with its cushions, had her first sleepover and transitioned from toddler to teen.
When I thought about the memories made on this couch and the symbolism of its color, I became more mindful about our approach to the new one.
We addressed the sofa replacement similar to the way we approach change management in enterprises. We discussed our need for replacing it, mapped out our timeline for getting a new one, included Claire’s input in the new purchase decision and donated our old couch to her school, where she’ll be able to sit on it whenever she wants. Of course in business, we can’t always keep the old intact, but we can acknowledge the loss of traditions, places and practices and in some cases give them a proper burial and provide closure.
The day before our new sofa was delivered, we took Claire’s picture on the red couch one last time. This time, she sat still for the photo, more comfortable knowing what lay ahead.
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Stephanie adapted this post from her story which originally aired on KQED Radio’s Perspectives. The artwork above is courtesy of Stephanie’s father, Richard Longo.