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Business Analysts – Be Aware that Change Requires Grief

Business Analysts, as change agents, are the heartbeat of change. Everything we are part of is a change. We implement new data, new process, new system, new teams, new objectives, and a new strategy.

We retire old data, old processes, and old systems, disband teams, complete objectives, and collaborate on new strategy. This change demands space to allow people involved a grief process. 

There are many models for successful change. Consider Kotter’s eight-step process for leading change:

  1. Create a sense of Urgency
  2. Build a Guiding Coalition
  3. Form Strategic Vision and Initiatives
  4. Enlist Volunteer Army
  5. Enable Action by Removing Barriers
  6. Generate Short-Term Wins
  7. Sustain Acceleration
  8. Institute Change

The first step sets a foundation. People need to understand there is something wrong and change is needed. They must see there is an urgency to change and seize an opportunity. The second step is to get a team of diverse experience together to collaborate and lead change. This team is passionate, credible and persuasive. The third step is to create a vision. A leader needs to have the vision to steer the team through the change. People need to see where the change will lead them. The fourth step is to entice people to join you on the change journey. Gain an army of volunteers to get involved. The fifth step is to enable that army to change the processes and systems that are impeding moving to the future vision. The sixth step is to create short term wins with that army and the change they are making. Measure and track success for those wins. Sharing the facts and showing the value of the accomplishments. The seventh step is to continue with more changes to accelerate the successes. Continue to expand the army with more people who will implement the change vision. The final eighth step is that the change becomes the new norm. It is part of the institution. The cycle begins again. These steps create buy-in for the change which is critical.

As buy in is happening so is grief. Accepting something new requires accepting something lost. Anything different in our life causes us to feel the loss. Change begets grief. Ignoring this human element to change is a risk many companies often ignore. This is a costly mistake. As champions of change are running around excited and building teams, there are people grieving the loss of their old life. Any change requires grief management.

Grief is acknowledged as five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Each of us handles grief differently; it is a very personal experience. Like our business analysis work, grief ‘just depends.’ It is not a scheduled task: Denial will be 10 days followed by 7 days of anger, 3 days of bargaining, and three weeks of depression and then you will accept, and your grief will be over. There that’s done now let’s get back to our vision for change! It does not work like this. Each change event will cause us to have a different grief process. We may revisit stages of the grief cycle before or after we get to acceptance.

Acknowledging that grief exists and should be considered is essential to organization change success.

Do you remember reaching the end of your primary education? At graduation, I looked around and thought about all of the humanity I had been close to in one way or another for 12 years. After that moment I would never again share the same space in the same way I had with these people. It was surreal. This has been repeated for me with every project team I am a part of, with every job I have had, and with any shared experience with other human beings. The loss of this creates grief. There is sadness when the journey is over. I look forward to the change for the new opportunity ahead; however, I need to process the grief. I grieve when a book series I have invested in is over. Those characters and their story is no longer part of my life. I miss that. I miss the wonder of their progression and long for when the characters were new, and I just learned their stories.

In our careers, this loss is occurring each time we discover a problem, an urgency to change. Suddenly people will be working in a different way, perhaps with different people or tools. Some people are excited and eager for the change and move through grief lightening quick ready to move forward. Others remain transfixed in their current state and fight the change dragging their heels as you move them forward. Be sensitive to the grief they are experiencing. Acknowledge it. Let them feel the anger at the change and be depressed as they work towards acceptance. Don’t discount their feelings and insist ‘Just get over it’ or ‘Time to move on already.’ Be kind and offer support to teams experiencing change. People are impacted by the smallest of changes, the seasonal change, daylight savings time, the end of a holiday celebration, the New Year, a team assignment change or physically moving desks. They are also impacted by the largest of changes; reorganization at work, promotion, leadership change, marriage, new business, divorce, and especially the loss of a loved one. I can remember crying my eyes out when the TV show MASH ended or when Johnny Carson retired. How strange it seemed to be so sad about a TV show ending.

However, that show was around for as long as I could remember. I missed it! I had grown to love those characters and their story. The same is true for our work lives.

Business Analysts are in the people business. We should be considerate of the human element of the technology we are impacting. Don’t skip acknowledging grief in the change process. Plan for grief support in your projects and time to allow for the grief process to work. The plan will depend on the complexity and severity of the change. Professionals may need to be engaged to help people work through the change. Leaders and employees may need some additional training to help through the process. It is possible to be stuck in grief, and we need to move people forward. This requires empathy, compassion and lots of listening! Having a vision will be instrumental in moving people out of grief, getting them to see the bright future ahead is a motivator to move forward. Like everything else, it’s art!

I am a fairly resilient person and have dealt with many significant changes and losses in my life so far. Coping has become part of who I am. I approach change with an ‘OK, what’s next, bring it on!’ attitude. I support others as they work through changes and remind others, this is hard for people. We can never forget the human element of change. These skills will help us to become better analysts!