The officer moves are here again…

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Adapted from workshop presentations by Major Carol Seiler and Tom Walker, National Social Services Conferences. Used with permission.

It’s that time of year when issues relating to the “moves” resurface. This process engages—for better or worse—a tremendous amount of organizational and ministry resources for up to six months, including time before and after the actual move. Before, there is change in activity and focus as people wonder if “the moves” will impact them. Some speed up and some slow down on making decisions “in case.” (You know it’s true!) Afterwards, people are adjusting to new styles and a nightmare of new access numbers.

Questions: Should we register for school? Cultivate a new advisory board member? Deal with a problem or wait it out? Administratively at THQ/DHQ, hundreds of hours are spent on the process—prayer, phone calls, discussions and agony when emergencies force a domino effect.

This could be sub-titled: “Just when I thought I knew what I was doing, they moved the officer/me.” “So why do I need to adjust again, I’ll be here longer?” “I hate being new.” “Is change as tough for the perpetrator as the victim?” (Define your role, it may vary).

Grief—a common thread

The common thread through all perspectives is grief. Change makes it tough to build relationships. Frequent change impacts the organization and individuals by continual transition, perpetual grieving, and a tendency not to invest in relationships to minimize pain. It can leave us with an organization of loners and small churches. The impact of anticipation, even without a move, increases the potential impact.

For officers, a move affects all aspects of life, from the workload to the color of the dishes at “home.” The change may or may not be expected or welcome. The network of the Army may mean that a perception of the new location and the officers already exists, correctly or incorrectly. For employees, the changing of the leader may make the same job seem brand new, depending on style and patterns.

Officer and staff response

Emotional responses for officers run the range of fear (“I’m in over my head”), excitement (new opportunities), grief (anger, disappointment or sadness at leaving), joy (a second chance if things didn’t go as well as hoped) and loneliness (starting relationship building all over again). Unique challenges may include an appointment that seems unrelated to the officers’ gifts, skills or interest —“but I’d rather …”. Timing may impact personal issues even though efforts are increasing to take these into account.

It’s similar for staff. There are expected and unexpected moves impacting positive and negative working relationships with staff. Staff emotional responses also range from fear (“what will happen to…”), excitement (new opportunities), grief (anger, disappointment or sadness at seeing someone leave), joy (a second chance if things didn’t go as well as hoped) to loneliness (starting relationship building all over again). These emotions may happen in opposing phases for staff and officers. If we attempt to understand the stages of grief, the unexpected bumps in relationships may not be as hard to handle. Grief stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Coping with moves

What could help before and after “the move”? In the spirit of the journey and Christian respect, communication is vital. Communicating expectations, timelines, and involving people in determining the steps and actions are important for all involved. Information provides tools for coping. Secrecy lets the imagination rule. Communication can help staff and officers make choices about the transition time being either a “lame duck” or a continued movement forward.

Ideally before a workplace change, according to Magellan Company, there is smooth orientation of the replacement, strategies for transition of successful activities, and a culture of continuous quality improvement that includes change in a positive manner. Realistically, there may be just enough time and energy to handle the necessities. All parties may be coping with different stages and workload. Effectiveness of the whole Army operation can be decreased significantly. Productivity costs are not easily measured, but the “drift” from effectiveness is felt.

Unintended consequences may occur. Staff may feel abandoned or decide it’s a “good time” to make personal changes. Grudges may surface without the time to work through and release them, leaving a bad taste in the transitioning.

It is helpful to thank each other and sincerely recognize the contributions and assets. Good starts build on gifts and goals, not on pain and problems. Resist the temptation to build yourself up by putting others or the organization down. An amazingly common practice is to evaluate new officers or staff by comparing them directly with their predecessor, or someone holding a comparable position in a previous appointment.

Ideally after the arrival of the new officer, opportunity to meet with all staff for their perspective on the “who, what, why” should occur. Realistically vacations, summer commitments and the tyranny of the urgent may mean crisis management becomes the bumpy road of transition and the pattern for the future.

Other consequences include a lack of interest in participating in the change process, some lack of common courtesies or a quick move to comfort zones. We applaud someone who can “hit the ground running” but it’s important to remember that initially it is more about connecting than getting it all done. Relation-ships are valued in God’s planning, are how worthwhile things will get done, and are the basis of trust.

Communication, along with common purpose, will allow us to respect each other’s perspective in the move. At the end of the day, may God give us all “the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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Salem youth plays with NY Staff Band

Salem youth plays with NY Staff Band

<> Daniel Summers, a 15-year-old cornetist from the Salem Citadel, Oregon

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