Sunday April 9 2017

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” George Bernard Shaw

In any career, change is a constant. This could be anything – something relatively minor such as an office reorganization (although you will be surprised how even that can cause angst!), a change that affects you directly such as a promotion or a change of boss, or a massive change that the company is going through as part of a transformation program. As an employee, you are already under pressure to perform – as if this weren’t enough, the framework against which that performance is judged often shifts as a result of these changes. And if you are to be successful (however you define success), you need to be able to deftly navigate your way past these changes. So, let’s have a look at some of the things which could change in most people’s careers, which I have broadly categorized into:

Transactional Change

This is probably the easiest to handle. Changes under this category include new procedures or processes being introduced (e.g. new financial processes for placing orders), new systems (e.g. switching from Windows to Mac) and upgradation of existing methods (e.g. automation of your expense reports). As long as you understand the rationale behind the change and upgrade your skills to handle it, be prepared for some teething problems and are convinced that the company has taken adequate measures to minimise the impact of the change on the business, most employees get on with it.

Transitional Change

This is much more uncomfortable. Examples of this may be getting a new boss, being assigned to a different country (I have had this happen to me 9 times in 20 years!), being promoted, moving to a different function (such as from a Financial role to a General Management one). This is where change gets personal. And where change gets personal, you have emotions playing a significant part. All change (in different degrees) affect us intellectually and emotionally. Accepting the change intellectually is far easier, however, unless we are bought in emotionally, we find it difficult to change. Even if we consider a “positive” change, such as a promotion, this will, in most cases, engender feelings of fear. Fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, lack of confidence etc. And while it’s natural for there to be a mix of excitement and trepidation in this case, it is critical to minimize this transitional phase and get stuck into the new role. Some of the ways you can do this are as follows:

  • Acknowledging the change – denial is very common when faced with change. I know of colleagues, who, when they were reassigned, continued working as if nothing had changed. This only makes it more difficult later on. It is very important to acknowledge the change that is taking place and make appropriate preparations to embrace the change.
  • Communicate – if there are concerns you have about the change, talk! Talk to your boss, talk to colleagues, talk to your family, talk to friends, talk to your trusted advisors within the organization.
  • Seek professional help – understand that it is normal to be afraid of change. There are trained professionals who can help you through the process. One such professional is an executive coach. Coaches are non-judgemental and will help you arrive at a solution which works best for you. Seek them out.
  • Have realistic expectations – if you set your performance expectations unrealistically high, you are setting yourself up for failure. Be sensible and then exceed these expectations.
  • Stress reduction – exercising or meditation are known to reduce anxiety.

Transformational Change

This, by definition, does not happen very often – but when it does – boy, are you going to feel it! This is where an organization reinvents/reshapes itself. Where the old is thrown out and you ring in the new. This change could well be because of unexpected or rapidly changing market conditions and it will most likely involve elements of Transactional and Transitional Change as well. Expect the organization to change dramatically, job descriptions to change beyond recognition and, in many cases, job categories to be redefined which may well result in job losses. In addition to all the fears we went through in the Transitional Change category, you will have the added fear of losing your job, so the most natural thing to do would be to resist! To hope that if you complain long and loudly enough, somebody will listen. Well, don’t! Here is what you should be doing instead:

  • Be part of the change – the change will happen, whether you like it or not. Normally transformational changes are accompanied by a lot of fanfare and announcements within the company, so find out as much as you can about the change coming and be part of it. The management of the company will be very heavily focused on dealing with resistance, so if you can demonstrate your commitment to the change, you will be positively looked upon.
  • Be an ambassador for change – a natural extension of the above – ask to help in the process. Transformation teams in most companies are stretched for resources and your offer for help will be welcomed. Additionally, and very importantly, it gets you closer to the action and prepares you better to understand the new landscape of the company.
  • Plan your career – it is likely that the organization post-transformation will be different. Continue to be in control over your career, but be prepared for your career to change direction.

Becoming comfortable with change is an essential skill to have in today’s career. It is normal to feel anxious when faced with change, but it is your ability to embrace the change which will allow you to thrive and enjoy continued success.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude” Maya Angelou