Change Management: Honor the Past

That “thing” we do

We all have some “thing” we hold on to at work. It may be a title, an assignment, a role, a process, a relationship, a seating location, or anything else that we’ve done repeatedly or grown comfortable with. Over time, these “things” take on a meaning beyond understanding; they become part of us, we develop a bond with them, they contribute to our work identities.

Change initiatives have a tendency to disrupt these “things.” Change forces us out of our comfort zones and disrupts our normal routines. Small changes may be relatively easy to adopt, such as completing a new form, entering an extra data field, or preparing a different report. More significant changes, like introducing new technology systems or work processes, may force us into new roles, responsibilities, skill sets, reporting relationships, physical locations, or social interactions requiring additional time to accept.

These larger changes, especially those that directly impact our standing at work, may cause us to question our place within the organization. What hasn’t been questioned before gets pulled into the light, examined, and potentially rearranged or eliminated. What we’ve done in the past may go away, or may be changed significantly.

A natural tendency would be to retreat, to grow defensive and resistant to the change. Morale may suffer and rumors can crop up. It can be a traumatic experience indeed!


How it happens

Organizations typically introduce change either directly with the impacted employee(s), or in a group setting for larger change initiatives. This communication generally paints the picture of change, including a rationale for the change and a description of what the change will entail. Participants will be encouraged to ask questions, which will be generally addressed through fact-based information. The announcement may conclude with employees being encouraged to embrace the change as a positive step for each individual and collectively for the organization.

The executive, manager or supervisor may feel they communicated the change effectively and, from a fact-based perspective, that may be true. However, fact-based communications often fail to address the more emotional aspects of the situation. They do not address the “thing” held dear by the employees.

Recognition and respect

Change within organizations, especially large-scale change, can be emotionally disruptive. The pictures painted about the potential future may seem interesting and vibrant. Still, each employee must go back to their work areas and, for the time being, perform their present duties; only now, they realize that the special “thing” or connection they’ve held with the present will be impacted, if not lost.

We need time to adjust when asked to change, to use or do something new, or to shift from our comfort zone. The greater the perceived or real change impact, the greater the need for this recognition and respect.

I have found that the simple act of recognizing, honoring and respecting our past contributions paves the way for change acceptance. It provides us with the emotional space needed to let go of yesterday and look toward tomorrow.

This change step, then, involves recognizing that these personal “things” exist, and that each person will want their items honored and respected. Over the past 15 years, I have developed a structured, facilitated session enabling participants to identify and recognize their unique perspectives on the organization’s history. These individual perspectives get blended together to form the group’s common past. The group shares their appreciations and regrets about past events, identifying key elements they’d like to leave in the past, or that they’d like to carry forward into the future.

The discussion outline below provides a framework to hold a “Recognition and Respect” meeting.


How To: Holding an “Honor the Past” Session

Participants: All members who will be directly impacted by the change. This could be a project team, a work group, a department, etc.

Session: Structured and facilitated.

Session Structure:

· Introduction. This session encourages participants to:

o Examine “where they’ve” been with the organization.

o Recognize those elements that had significance to them personally, and to the entire organization.

o Honor and respect these past contributions and events.

o Provide an opportunity to shift their focus to the future.

· Key events – Use post-it notes to record and display events of personal, professional, cultural, national, or global significance. Every event deemed important by the individual has significance to this exercise.

· Post the “key events” onto a timeline. Based on the group’s tenure, it will usually be sufficient to go back 10 years or so. Encourage participants to review and discuss what they see. What events standout? What needs more clarification? What draws interest? How thoughts / feelings emerge from having all these laid out?

· Filter the events. Discussion:

o What events directly impacted the work, the organization, the job, the culture?

o What events have greater significance? Why?

o What changes occurred to or within the org, job, culture, etc., because of these events?

· Prouds & Sorries. Discussion:

o Review the events, the areas of greatest significance or impact, or any event.

o What stands out as the greatest success, achievement, or “prouds” for the company, or any individual?

o What stands out as the strongest “regrets” or “sorry” for the company or any individual?

· Change picture: Executive review:

Outline the intended change project.

o What’s intended?

o What outcomes could result?

o When will it begin?

o Who will it involve?

o Who may be impacted?

o How may they be impacted

o How long should it take?

· Back to the future:

o Given the organizational strengths, prouds, sorries, etc., and the intended change project:

§ What should the change picture be sure to include, incorporate, carry forward?

§ What should the change picture be sure to exclude, avoid, leave behind?

o Get specific on these “ins” and “outs.”

o Understand and describe “why” for each.

o Establish how these will improve the overall change initiative and potential outcomes.

o Explore how to self-police these “ins” and “outs.”

§ Ensuring adherence or incorporation of the “ins.”

§ Correcting or eliminating the “outs.”



Letting go of that “thing” we do at work requires a symbolic experience. The Honor the Past session ultimately seeks to put the past and present in a place so that it can be recognized, honored and respected. The organization now has a collective experience from which to build.

For participants, this session should clearly establish that the past has been recognized, their contribution to the organization honored, and their value in that contribution respected.

Collectively, the organization and each participant can look at this experience as a pivot point. That “thing” we do can be viewed as a cherished memento, now more easily relinquished, enabling each of us to move from past and present to the future.

About the Author

Alan Hirsch is a Certified Change Management Consultant and Registered Organizational Development Professional (RODP). He possesses over20 years experienceconsulting with and advising clients on technology driven change initiatives. He can be reached at

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Posted on 06/02/2009 by

Change Management: Honor the Past author sourabhhajela


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