change blog

 

Most of us are familiar with the childhood superstition so beautifully illustrated in Ruth Park and Deborah Niland’s book When the Wind Changed.  Of course we didn’t really believe that an ugly face would stick if the wind changed!  However, such superstitions betray an underlying belief that perhaps change is something to be feared.

As the new year looms closer and closer, we are all confronted by change, immersed in it, surrounded by it and – whether willingly or kicking and screaming – we are forced to participate in it.  While there is nothing new about change – it is perhaps the most perennial force in the evolution of our reality as we know it – each age and each generation is confronted with new levels and types of change.  At a broad level we have climate change, political change, economic change, technological change, and social and cultural change.  In every mass media, we are bombarded with reminders of these on a daily basis.

Restructuring has become the catch cry for the new millennium, with both positive and negative connotations and denotations.  In the past week, we have heard discussions about raising the pension age to 67, about the need to restructure the health system, about the escalating costs of housing and growing after-housing poverty to mention just a few.

All changes, whether global, national or local, impact us personally.  While there may be differing degrees of impact based on the type of change experienced and an individual’s ability to deal with change, most of us experience stress when confronted with change.  And all the rhetoric in the world about braving change, about its benefits, about the need to adapt and be resilient does not make it easier.

When something is experienced personally, it needs to be addressed at a personal level.  Many organisations and employers are recognising the need for strategies that effectively support people through change and provide them with some skills and techniques for surviving and thriving with change.  These include counselling, mentoring, coaching and action learning.

Action learning circles are an increasingly popular method for effecting real change.  A small group of staff, for example from a similar level of leadership, from the same work unit or with some other commonality, meet on a regular basis, once or twice a month over several months.  Members of the group discuss concerns and issues and provide ideas, encouragement, support and direction.

An external facilitator may be required to ensure that the process is fair and effective and that a foundation of trust and respect is maintained.  Real change is achieved through personal reflection on strategies and changes put into practice on the job, a process which is ongoing over the course of several months.

Coaching is also highly effective in supporting staff through change.  What is essential, however, is that workplace coaches have a significant level of emotional maturity and be able to empathise, listen and counsel effectively.  It is also essential that the coachee respects and is able to trust the coach.

When dealing with change, therefore, a great deal of responsibility falls back on managers, leaders, supervisors and others who provide coaching and counselling to staff.  The relationship staff have with their manager powerfully influences how they feel, their motivation, commitment to the job and, no doubt, their ability to embrace change.

As demonstrated in a study of 80,000 managers published by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, “people leave managers not companies.”  While most managers are brilliant when it comes to strategic development and managing projects and production, many are not natural coaches and fall down on the people management side of things.  For many, this can be difficult to acknowledge or admit.

Managers too need a supportive network or a mentor or coach of their own.  Leading others through change takes courage and honesty and a demonstrated ability to embrace change themselves.

Ultimately each of us is responsible for our own predicament and the choices we make.  However, when confronted with significant change, we need meaningful connections with others in both personal and professional spheres.  New circumstances, demands and responsibilities in the workplace may require a new level of personal and interpersonal effectiveness, for both managers and operational staff.

It takes confidence and courage to release our stronghold on what is familiar, though not ideal or workable.  When so much is in a state of flux, it is as though we are continually being stripped bare and made vulnerable.  Even our fear – of success, failure, responsibility or change – can provide a familiar, yet false, sense of security.

Yet we may find that when we do step out and put on a different face, a different hat, a different way of doing things… the wind may change but we are not struck down or turned into a pillar of salt.  Nothing is set in stone.  Life goes on.