I have recently been thinking about customs that signify change. In our work, we need to help switch mindsets and ready people for change, and I, generally, refer to the concepts of weddings and funerals. Weddings are intentional celebrations for the start of something new and since weddings are celebrated in most cultures and globally – it is an easy concept to use when discussing a celebration for change. Funerals, on the other hand, are designed to allow people to mourn the loss of something that isn’t coming back, take a moment to celebrate what it was, and then consciously move from the past. And I often use this analogy to help people see that we are going to mourn something and put it away for good. People learn through stories and these types of connections help people ready their minds for whatever change is coming next.
The other day while working with an organization that is merging its operations with another firm, I said that we needed to “have a wedding” to celebrate the merger of the two companies and signify a change in the day-to-day operations. I said that things would be vastly different with the two firms as one than it was with each firm as individual organizations. On the zoom call, someone said, “I miss weddings”. The group laughed and we all recognized the strangeness that is this new reality. But this interaction got me thinking: in a time where we are not celebrating or mourning moments in our personal lives, are we doing any sort of that in the office at work?
Wedding and Funerals or celebrations and mourning are basic needs for us as people, they are intentional moments when one story ends and another begins. These things help us mentally prepare for the next phase by allowing us to focus on the past and the future simultaneously, while giving us mental permission to make change after the event.
So, what does this mean for work?
First, it means that you need to take a moment to mourn what is never coming back – the old way of business is gone. Remote work, virtual meetings, and smaller conferences are here to stay. That is not to say that we will never work in offices again, but many aspects of our Covid-19 precautions will stay in our world long after the Covid-19 threat is eliminated. It is okay to take a minute and be sad that life as we used to know it is gone. When we have a funeral for something it prepares us to think about what is to come. So, mourn and then take in the new normal. Virtual meetings save on gas and help the environment. Remote work is easier when you feel like having a work day in your PJ’s. Its not all bad, it is just different. There are lots of times when a company should mourn something and have a moment of silence before starting something new. When a loved co-worker retires, when a product line is shelved, or when the old way of doing things just isn’t going to happen anymore. Put the old story down and ready yourself to pick up a new one.
And second, it means that we have to intentionally celebrate from time to time. Landing new clients, getting some long overdue productivity software, adding new tech, or integrating departments that were once siloed from each other – these celebrations allow us to be excited for what is next – even if the things that are next mean some more work, or new processes. It is worthy of excitement. This celebration is an end to one story before we start the new one.
Our human brains learn best through stories. And we more adaptable to change when the stories in our lives are complete with a clear beginning, middle, and end. So, as we move through change in our lives and in our workplaces, be intentional with the stories you create. Build in moments of silence and toasts in celebration. Without these moments we carry too many stories with us and they begin to feel like a jumbled burden. We need to put down one story before we can pick up another.