Why change takes time... and how to speed it up
Updated: Apr 28
Change Leadership and Confidence expert, Lata Hamilton, explores why change always seems to take longer than expected.
Beep beep beep. Groan. Is it that time already? It feels like I only just fell asleep! But I’m leading a virtual visualisation class at 8.00am so I have to get up now for my morning run to be back and ready for that.
As I jump (ok, fine, grumble) out of bed, I’m hit with a wave of chattering cold. Temperature’s dropped. Hopeful, I check the weather app. Dang - rain is not forecast until 11am. No excuse not to run. Well, it was worth a try.
I move to the living room, still freezing, and start my morning stretches to prep for my run. Bed - that warm haven of sheets and feathers and dreams, still beckons. I carry on the stretches. I’m getting warmer, limber. It’s not so bad? But I look outside, yesterday’s wind still curls and whips through the trees. It looks cold. I could still back away. But no - I’ve got enough momentum now to be brave and head out.
Tights, top, joggers. Ready. I go down to the lobby, and like a cruel joke it is toasty warm - opposite to the chilling apartment I just left. Argh! Could I just stay here? No, I’m too far in to turn back now. Out the front door and smashed in the face with searing icy wind so I have no choice but to start to jog. I stop a little way down the road, whizz through some dynamic stretches to finish my warm up, set my tunes on Spotify, and I run. Fast. It heats my body instantly and even as I curve the headland into oncoming fresh gusts, I have pace - I keep running. 1 kilometre later I slow slightly. 2 kilometres I find my groove. 3 kilometres, I feel a few drops of rain (4 hours earlier than the weather forecast, I might add) but unfazed, I stay on to my destination. I’m in flow. 4 kilometres and I could - Just. Keep. Running.
And that’s Change.
We start cold
So many times, we start a change cold. We aren’t warmed up, we aren’t primed, we aren’t prepped. Most often, as a Change Manager, I’ve been brought onto projects that are launching in two or three months. Occasionally, I get the luxury of a bit more time. It sounds like plenty of time - but remember, I’ve still got to learn the change, scope the change, plan the change, and start delivering to help the impacted teams feel informed, ready and confident for launch or go live. So, there isn’t often time to warm them up.
Change has an integration period
We think that the moment a change happens – that’s it, it’s done. People have agreed, decided, gotten on board, started. If they’ve learnt a new skill, boom they can put it into practice, right? Yes, consciously they have understood the change. But subconsciously, they’re still cold.
What do we mean by change? For organisations, let’s take the example of the area I work with teams most in: restructures.
At a team level, the change could be the new operating model taking effect.
At an individual level, it could be that the redundant team members have exited.
In my experience as both a Change Manager and a Career Coach, human beings have what we call an “integration period” after such a change has occurred. This is where the change settles on the mind, it seeps into our subconscious, it becomes part of our past, our present, our future, we have complete acceptance and congruence, and this starts to rapidly change our behaviour and our results. This is what creates lasting change. This is why change takes time.
How long is the integration period?
I often see a few horizons in my work:
Some integration happens overnight, as we sleep.
A bit more happens about 3 weeks later… here’s where we start to see a few opportunities emerge, and some initial results being felt
Finally – about 3 months down the line, some really big results have occurred and a complete shift is seen, heard and felt.
3 months to really get the change to sink in, and more importantly get the benefits of it. And yet often we only start communicating a change a few weeks out, and many times the project has already wrapped up and closed only a few weeks in. We just haven’t accounted for the integration period.
Let’s use our restructure example again.
At a team level, this could be the smooth operation of the new model, the proper functioning of processes, and a ramp up in performance. We expect this to happen the moment the change launches… but it can take 3 months and sometimes even longer because the people are still integrating. Not great for your quarterly results, right?
At an individual level, outplacement services are often provided at the end when the redundancy has occurred, which means your team members who have lost their job could have months before they find the next. Remember, they are still integrating. Not great for their livelihood, confidence or even the wider economy, right?
So here’s how you speed it up
1. Stay warm
In the Future of the Workforce webinar I ran with Morgan McKinley (get the free recording here), I talked about seeding change very early by building a foundation of change well ahead of time. Imagine if I had never woken up cold. Imagine if I’d had the heater on through the night, so when I jumped out of bed I was nice and warm, keen to get started because I already felt flow.
We need to arm our people with this foundation, what I call “the undercurrent of change acceptance” - it doesn’t matter what the waves are, they are held up on an undercurrent of change comfort that is always there. You’re not starting from zero every time, redoing the hard work with every change. Change is a reality now – it’s ever-present and speeding up, and we need to keep our people warm so they can integrate change faster.
2. Emotional intensity
The second way to speed up the integration period is to change people from the inside out. When you connect and switch people on at an emotional level and with intensity of focus. I’ve written before about the power of immersive training. And I’ll never forget a coaching client of mine who thought we had been coaching for 9 months, but it had actually only been 6 months. Time literally sped up for her, because we were working on emotions and with intensity. When you harness emotional intensity early on in a change, it can absolutely speed up the integration period from months to weeks, and results come faster.
The integration period is why I recommend implementing a career coaching program for restructuring teams at the start of the change when the operating model is being announced, not at the end when the new structure is finally in place. Integrate through the change, not after it, and enjoy the flow of transformation that lasts.
I'm Lata Hamilton - the Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, a Change Management consultancy specialising in digital transformation, operating model changes, and new ways of working and leadership.
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