A change of heart: What a heart attack taught a change management pro about change


This past Valentine’s Day, I really wanted to surprise my husband. And I definitely did – with a heart attack. Not quite the fun or romantic event I had planned, but a memorable occasion we’ll both never forget.

Here’s what happened. While I was shoveling our driveway to remove the eight inches of snow that had fallen, all of the sudden, an excruciating pain overcame me; up through my stomach, ribs, chests, and throat. I leaned on the shovel in an attempt to catch my breath.

When the pain did not subside, I managed to get back into the house so I could lie down. I was overcome with nausea, sweats, my left arm went numb, and I was still in tremendous pain but felt “better.” Three hours later, when my husband arrived home, he commented that I did not look well. I told him I must have pulled a muscle while shoveling.

The next morning, there was a segment on the news about women’s health and the symptoms of a heart attack, but I didn’t have to watch the segment to know something was wrong already. Later, as I was driving to work, an hour commute or so, I was replaying the events of the previous 24 hours.

Fortunately enough, Hyland offers an onsite wellness clinic, so I decided to ease my fear and pay a visit.  Shortly thereafter, I was admitted to a local hospital where doctors confirmed I did have a heart attack.

“What?” I thought. “No, I didn’t. How could this be possible? I am healthy. I am active. I run half marathons and completed several full marathons.”

I felt like my life was over.

Change management graphic


You are probably wondering what this has to do with change management. As I look back even only a few months ago, I realized my incident was exactly the type of experience I help our customers with: change. As a Change Management Consultant for Hyland, I spend my days preparing workforces for “change.”

Though I consider myself a champion of change, I was not prepared for this kind of change. You’ll see I’ve included a fancy graphic above. This graphic depicts the five stages of the “change curve.”

Looking at it, I began to ask myself, “Was it really possible to experience every single emotion on the change curve within a four-day period?”

If you hadn’t guessed it, the answer is “yes.”

The five stages of change

Stage 1: Denial

My reaction was typical: “I did not have a heart attack. I am healthy for the most part – an occasional drink of wine, but I eat healthy and exercise.”

I’ve never been in the hospital, let alone ever had surgery. And I did not want to go through this lifestyle change! Perhaps I was misdiagnosed.

“Are you sure I had a heart attack?” I asked.

Stage 2: Resistance

They were sure. Now I have to take medication for the rest of my life, no alcohol, limit my salt intake, can’t skydive…

Stage 3: Valley of Despair/Pity City

Then, something happened. The teacher became the student. Every day, I help organizations research, prepare for, and initiate changes that will make life better for everyone involved. Now here I was on the receiving end of that advice.

My cardiac nurse wrote a note on my medical chart that said: “If patient would embrace the change, she would heal faster.”

Wow – what an awakening! This was my “Aha moment.”

Stage 4: Exploring

During my stay, specialists repeatedly visited. They inundated me with literature and discussed my new normal. I was informed, engaged, involved, and prepared now! Things didn’t seem so bad. This was actually going to be a good lifestyle change. I was getting on board with this.

Stage 5: Commitment/Acceptance

Upon my release, I immediately joined an American Heart Association group and attended nutrition classes. I limit myself to one glass of red wine per day. I slowly strengthened my heart and have started running again.

Because I embraced the change, I am now well on my way to recovery.

Getting started

Not everyone experiences change the same or at the same pace. For me, it took a note that I’ve probably written about others. Now, that good advice was staring right back at me.

Some of the customers I’ve counseled like to just dive in head first – stage 4 or stage 5 – and embrace change head-on.  Others may start at stage 1, stage 2, or stage 3 and need to be informed, involved, engaged, and prepared for the change. That’s fine. That’s why there are people like cardiac nurses and change management consultants.

So, the next time you’re starting an IT project, ask yourself if you’ve really considered how you’ll be helping your users adapt and embrace any potential changes. Identifying possible areas of resistance before you begin is the first step to initiating change successfully.

You can learn more about change management here.

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