Hypothetical #1: Loren has been a partner at
Smith, Green, and Post for close to 10 years. Loren is "a team
player." Until one year ago, Loren was the "right hand" to named
partner Chris Smith. Loren managed client relationships and was the
first or second chair in most of the complex litigation that Chris
claimed as origination. Loren never complained about the share of
the firm profits, although the differential between the firm's
highest and lowest paid partners had been widening over the years.
Last year Loren was told to develop originations, experienced a pay
cut and learned that Chris was giving work to other lawyers, junior
to Loren. This year Loren was told that despite finding other
sources of work to boost billable hours, Loren needed to leave the
firm by the end of the year.
Hypothetical #2: Taylor hung a shingle after
years of working in larger firms and as Taylor's firm grew, the
time came to hire another lawyer. After much searching, Taylor
hired Sydney about six years ago. It took Taylor and Sydney six
months before true comfort in the working relationship developed.
After five years, Taylor was certain in the belief that Sydney
would become Taylor's partner. Their work styles were complimentary
and they had become close friends. The past 24 months had seen a
significant slow down in work and revenue. Indeed this topic was
the first point of discussion for every office meeting.
Additionally, Sydney had moved out of state and back home to be
near family as Sydney's family grew larger with the birth of
children. Sydney had expressed concern about the drop in revenue
and the cost to the firm of keeping Sydney on payroll. When Sydney
told Taylor of an intention to take a position with another law
firm, Taylor was devastated.
Neither Loren nor Taylor wanted the changes they were
experiencing to occur. Both were concerned about how to manage the
change and still meet their interests, needs, wants, expectations,
hopes, dreams, concerns and goals.
People often experience change as an unanticipated and
undesirable loss and a "felt need" to change or escape from a
particular uncomfortable situation. The simple fact is that we are
loss-averse. As Nobel Prize-winning economist, Daniel Kahneman
says, "the asymmetric intensity of the motives to avoid losses and
to achieve gains shows up almost everywhere." When our thinking and
behavior is driven by an intense desire to avoid feelings of loss
instead of taking the time to adjust to those feelings and allow
them to dissipate at the right time, we stop thinking effectively
and instead jump to conclusions. This hinders our ability to move
forward strategically and intentionally toward our true
For example, Taylor may be in shock from the surprise that
Sydney is leaving. Taylor may also feel a need for more revenue in
the business. Instead of first making sense of Sydney's departure
in a way that allows forward movement of actions, Taylor may not
consider the possibility of maintaining any part of the
relationship with Sydney. Instead Taylor may jump to the conclusion
that the relationship is over, that there will be nobody with a
complementary skill set and the business won't survive. Chris
Argyris called this thinking, running up the ladder of
In the previous example, Taylor may be only able to notice a
small set of data relative to the departure of Sydney - that the
relationship with Sydney is ended. Taylor selected a piece of data
and attached a limited meaning - that the relationships with Sydney
is over and without Sydney, the law firm couldn't be managed well
In the example with Loren, Loren's identity as a law firm lawyer
may limit options for new positions outside of law firms. If Loren
begins with a position that it is better to be a partner in a law
firm than counsel in a corporation, Loren won't notice or consider
any opportunities that might be a better fit with Loren's
personality or interests.
When change happens to you, begin with an open mind and
challenge your assumptions about the situation. Find your true
interests and possible options.
Questions to ask:
How did things change? What are my assumptions about the change(s)?
Why? What if my assumption was wrong?
What are my interests, wants, needs, preferences, hopes and
How can I move forward toward my interests?
Where should I look for options?
Susan Letterman White, JD, MS (Organization Development) is a
strategic change consultant for clients in professional service
industries. Her work is designed to improve organizational, group,
and individual performance, leadership, work-flow, diversity and
inclusion, communication and business development. Her projects
often include data collection and analysis, group facilitation,
mediation, training and coaching.