Recently, after setting up a 75-gallon freshwater Angelfish aquarium and finishing my 125-gallon tetra/rasbora aquarium, I looked back at my 55-gallon planted aquarium with a more critical eye. It was my first large planted aquarium and, mainly out of panic, I over-planted it. It was heavily planted, and one plant, in particular, the water wisteria, had taken over half of the tank. Fish were hiding and the shrimp were rarely seen. It was time for a change.

My old, over-grown 55-gallon tank that needed to be rebuilt.

Changing up a tank can be difficult because it is so stressful for the animals The shifting process required pulling out about 40 fish and shrimp and relocating them to smaller temporary holding tanks while I tore down the tank, removed the plants and rock, sucked up the sand and lava rock, and rebuilt the tank into a cleaner showcase for the fish. Fresh sand was placed down to cover filter bags full of the old gravel and substrate mixture I keep from previous teardowns, rock was layered into new configurations, and the decorations that the kids wanted in the tank were rearranged. Finally, add the tap water, conditioner, and additional bacteria culture to prepare it for the fish. This took all day. The results looked great and the fish were excited to interact with the new, more open environment.

My American Flagfish male, showing off his colors proudly for July 4th.

From the perspective of the fish, I imagine this was traumatic. Ripped from a familiar environment and placed in essentially bare tanks, they remained for hours not knowing what the future would bring. They couldn’t really see what I was doing, nor comprehend the long-term benefits, they just knew that the temporary change was the “new normal” for them, and it was less than they previously had. At the end of the day, when I put them into a larger, cleaner, more interactive environment, they explored and adapted quickly. Given their behavior, they seem happier than they were in the previous tank setup. Had I not taken the time to properly prep the tank for cycling by using the bacterial culture-rich substrate, reusing the original hardscape with their existing bacterial cultures, and adding a bacterial culture to the water right away, I could have lost all the fish I wanted to save.

Recently, our department went through a pretty major reorganization. It wasn’t a reaction to performance or a failure in any way, but rather a plan for future scaling and growth. From the independent contributor’s view, the benefits don’t seem very obvious. Honestly, it’s just shifting from one director to another, one team to another. Some key responsibilities had shifted and needed to be understood, but for most folks, the shift didn’t impact their day-to-day. So why do it?

When these changes happen within an organization, most often it’s because of strategic planning. Strategic planning is the process of defining a strategy for making decisions and allocating resources toward a strategic outcome. A good portion of that process is evaluating the current organizational structure and deciding if that structure can meet the goals and needs of the organization in the next few years. An example of this type of thinking can be found when Disney Parks re-evaluated its Annual Passholder program in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Agree or not (I know my boys are none too happy), this process is often necessary to plan for growth and viability for any company.

The strategic plan can be painful for those directly impacted. Change is always scary because it brings unknown variables. When you combine departments, there are redundant roles… how do you reconcile that? Do changes mean redundancies? Will skillsets need to change? There are a lot of questions and anxieties that crop up during and after the change. This is where Change Management shines, or the process of preparing, supporting, and helping teams through organizational change. It’s important to communicate early and often about changes and their impacts to set expectations right away and allay any fears from the coming or current changes. It is also important for those in positions of power and influence (be they leadership or senior employees) to be on board with the change, so consider involving them in the change management conversations early on.

It’s a general rule for any change: failure to implement change management will seriously hamper positive change results. Employees will often fight the change, morale will be impacted, and turnover will likely increase for the organization. Much like putting fish in an uncycled tank, they will not be happy.

What does this mean to you? It’s a general principle that any change requires preparation and planning. Strategic plans will get you where you want to go, organizational change management plans will help lead the organization to success. Doing one without the other will lead to pain that, unfortunately, should be avoided.

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