by Ian Saunders, Antony Aitken, Ray Charlton and David Flatman

How do we pace change?

The pace of change is accelerating for many people. Because individuals are different – for example, in terms of experience, skills, temperament and preferences – the effects of the pace of change will also differ from person to person.

Your energy, stamina, progress and performance are interdependent. You can be too slow in getting moving, or you can stretch myself too far and too fast and then fade early.

If you can become aware of where you are on the diagram shown below, this will help you learn to pace yourself appropriately.

Using the graph

Consider any task. You will have a sense of how difficult the task seems to you, and also a sense of your abilities and skills relating to the task. As a result of your perceptions you will be able to place yourself in one of the areas of the graph.

If you feel in the Panic zone, you can either reduce the difficulty of the task or find ways to increase your skill. These measures will help bring the task back into the Stretch zone, where effective performance and learning take place. Too long in the Panic zone leads to Burn out.

Key point

Remember that keeping people within the Comfort and Stretch zones is all about perception. Theirs, not yours.

Ideally, you want to find ways of keeping the tasks involved with a change within the Stretch or Comfort zones of your people. This means that you will probably need to do two things:

  1. Enhance people’s perception of their abilities to handle a task:
  • Give them extra training
  • Assign them a mentor or experienced partner
  • Remind them that the task is similar to something already achieved
  • Give them more time to finish something
  • Make allowances for mistakes as they learn
  1. Decrease the perceived difficulty of the task:
  • Break it into smaller pieces
  • Make sure the consequences of failure are not so great
  • Modify it so it is at least partly familiar
  • Increase the time allowed to complete
  • Reduce the complexity in some way.

We do best when we pace each other

As in a relay race, so with managing and leading change: if you rush off ahead, you will soon find yourself alone; when you dawdle, you will be left behind. So you will need to pay attention to others, to notice when they are going strongly, making expected speed, or unable to keep up, and you can then respond constructively. People move at different – sometimes very different – speeds.

Everyone should join in setting targets and timetables

People managing change often seek to influence the pace by setting objectives and milestones. These work best when those affected have contributed to setting them, agreed that they are appropriate, and can review them when the circumstances change. Arbitrary or imposed targets rarely result in excellence: typically they produce minimum compliance, resentment and poor performance.