No matter how well-rehearsed the decision, the day you start to execute your plan is a day of great uncertainty and anxiety. I tell this personal story to educate and reassure change leaders in any situation.
My mother has Alzheimer’s. This is an undeniable and inevitable change. My father made the first decision. “I will care for your mother as long as I am able.” This decision grew out of love, responsibility and a noble acceptance of what life sometimes requires of you.
I am the planner and change agent in this family just as I am with organizations in my chosen career as the president of Signature i. Eighteen months ago I determined we should prepare to make an informed decision about long-term-care options and organized a scouting trip of nursing homes in their area. On this trip my father delegated the second decision to me. “When the time comes, you will have to make this decision.”
The day to execute this well-rehearsed decision is here. And as life always teaches, here are the lessons I can already share at the outset with change leaders.
Find an advisor you can trust to help you make the best decision. My father knew he would be too close to his own life to accept when he had played through all the options to live up to his first decision. I may have accepted the job of “chairman” of his board of advisors that day in May 2008, but I too had a team regularly assessing the situation: other family members, the daycare provider, physicians and other knowledgeable care givers. And I am sure my father understood on some unspoken level that our daily conversations about how each day went were in fact mini-assessments about the sustainability of the current situation.
You can only research your options in theory because you can’t fully know what the actual conditions and options will be the day you begin execution. Yes I have a shortlist of researched nursing homes, but we do not know who will have a place for her and on what day. The current arrangements will have to be maintained intact until that day. In the same way, organizations have to keep operating as they are until the new plan becomes fully viable. You can’t stop meeting the commitments of your business and neither can we stop caring for my mother until a good alternative is in place.
Have a communications plan that spares people some uncertainty. I did rehearse this decision with my family over the past year so that they could anticipate what would happen and help shape elements of the plan. When execution begins, a good communications plan has the right balance of transparency and compassion. People do deserve to know what will happen in their lives. They do not have to be told immediately nor do they all have to be told at the same time. However, this time to get your own act together is very short, and yet you can use it wisely to gather some answers to project confidence about the new direction. Then you can do as I am and start communicating with others in the order of their role in executing this change and enlist them in managing the concerns everyone will have.
Change packs an emotional wallop no matter how well you plan. You can manage, but you cannot minimize, the emotions you and others will feel about a significant change. The questions and the doubts will roll into even the most rational mind because we are all humans in this together. And that is how you get through the emotional wallop, as humans acknowledging and supporting each other, even as you guide them away from a life familiar for both its struggles and joys. This is what I will remember the day I tell my mother about her new home, and every day after when I reassure my father about his new role and way of caring for her.