Change is an interesting concept. We all understand it, we’ve all experienced it; sometimes willingly, sometimes not. It has been said that change is the only constant, and I think this is true both in our personal lives and our workplaces.
But what makes us able to withstand change successfully? What, in fact, allows us to not only survive change but thrive in today’s rapidly changing world? Our workplaces are less static than they have ever been, with change coming from globalization, economic pressure, the speed of product innovation in most industries, shifting market demands—the list is endless.
Mastering the art of change is what allows us to capitalize on new opportunities and respond creatively to the obstacles life throws our way. So what are the secrets to making change your friend?
SHIFT YOUR PERSPECTIVE
We often see change as a threat, especially when it shows up as an unanticipated bump in the road. A major obstacle in that project you’ve been working on for months doesn’t usually feel like an opportunity, it feels like a massive headache.
But what makes it a headache isn’t actually the change itself, it is our single-minded pursuit of keeping things the way we thought they were supposed to go. When we let go of seeing change as a negative interruption in our plans, we open our minds to seeing the opportunity the change presents us.
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Warner Burke has compiled a comprehensive manual on organizational change (not light reading, but lots of good information), and in one chapter he states: "equilibrium is the precursor to death." I think this is a fascinating concept in reframing how we see change.
I used to think part of my job as a leader was to keep things running smoothly, to anticipate problems and resolve them as quickly as possible. But this notion of equilibrium = death upends that thinking. Perhaps our job as leaders is not to smooth over change, but rather to stimulate it. Whether through complacency or rigidity, avoidance of change eats up huge amounts of energy that could be channeled elsewhere in our organizations.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Change isn’t linear. And yet we tend to plan for organizational change as if it were. We map out what needs to happen, create a communication plan about it, roll out our plan, and expect everything to follow in sequence.
Only life isn’t like that. The different phases of change may happen simultaneously. Or in loops, going back and forth many times before we can move forward.
Part of our job as leaders is to understand that things won’t be neat and orderly and to manage around it anyway. That means being consistent, repetitive, and persevering even when things feel chaotic or like we’ve hit a wall. We need to stay focused in our vision for change, and expect that we simply can’t control how it will all happen. It’s not dissimilar to the practice of meditation—the secret isn’t to stop your mind from wandering, it is to consistently, patiently, and compassionately bring it back to your focal point over and over again.
The same is true with change. It won’t go smoothly. People will fight it. Things will go sideways. And as leaders we keep bringing ourselves, our teams, and our organizations back to what we’re trying to accomplish, over and over again.