February 24, 2022
For decades, it has been agreed that change is a constant. So, doesn’t it stand to reason that before a change or crisis happens, an organization should have the ability and resilience to transform? In the McKinsey report, The resilience imperative: Succeeding in uncertain times, resilience is defined as, “the ability to withstand unpredictable threat or change and then to emerge stronger.” In other words, it is the ability to sustain and endure. And it applies just as much to workplace resilience as any other element of the organisation.
But how do we build workplace resilience? How do we make sure we are ready, as an organization, to deal with whatever comes down the road?
Previously, in business, we have talked about embedding, enabling, and/or adopting change to describe and illustrate a change that is long lasting – sustained. However that does not mean that the change itself does not change. In order for it to genuinely be sustainable it has to have the ability to exist and metamorphosize to meet the changing needs of the business, based on the external and internal factors that influence an organisation and change.
The analogy that change is a story or a journey is well known. The big question is though, what story do people want to share and how do they want to travel on the journey? The word share is deliberate as change is not a ‘one-man band’ activity – it takes a great deal of different people to enact or embody a change. Even if the change is a personal/individual change, it still takes a support network for the individual to make the change, i.e. with smoking or losing weight – if there are people around the individual who are eating cake or smoking a good deal, then that creates an environment that is not supportive for the person to lose weight or stop smoking. Whereas if the people around them exhibit the desired behaviours, then it is easier to mimic the same behaviours.
If there is a high level of engagement but a low level of activity, then there is a risk of generating a frenzy of high motivated people but with no focus or shared direction to engage their motivations
To create sustainable change there needs to be a high level of engagement and activity with people going in the same direction. People need to be actively motivated and participating in the activities involved consistently and regularly that promote, encourage and embody the change required.
If there is a high level of engagement but a low level of activity, then there is a risk of generating a frenzy of high motivated people but with no focus or shared direction to engage their motivations. This can lead to frustration, disillusionment and cynicism with the change.
If there is high activity but low engagement, then there ends up being a great deal happening but no one is either aware of the activity or is inclined to actually get involved. This de-prioritises the change and ultimately leads to the change not happening – all talk no action many times ends up being the mantra describing that change.
If there is no engagement and no activity, then the change is at a stalemate and ultimately gets forgotten about and seen as either an empty promise or inconsequential organisational ret erect.
So how can a change become sustainable and help build resilience? The key is to use a holistic approach to change that allows for an outside perspective looking in, as well as, an inside perspective looking out.
The world is very complex and multi-faceted with lots of different factors having impacts on organisational change, whether it be a small or large transformation. There is a re-aligning of societal systems and desires, exponential technology development, not to mention the UN sustainability goals in which many companies are having to illustrate how they are contributing the achieving these goals via country Governments.
Utilising a holistic approach that takes the outside and inside perspectives into consideration, not just on the impact of the change but also on the assumptions made on those potential impacts, allows for a more complete approach that brings the future context of change into focus.
The approach highlights the different political, economical, societal, technology, legal and environmental external factors, along with the internal organisational factors, such as culture, team, policies and procedures, technology, systems, etc. This information is then used to define and obtain a real understanding of the type of change in which is being planned and the potential impacts it will have on the people and the organization itself.
The ABChange model then gives a clear direction on what is needed to lead the people of the organisation through that specific type of change. The leading the change needs to be incorporated into the full change plan so really illustrate the different actions and tasks needed to embark on the change journey.
So many times, the ‘things’ that need to happen with a change, i.e. create a communication plan, training strategy, etc are identified. But rarely are the leading activities planned out and these in many ways are more critical, as they will determine what communications need to be planned, to whom, when and how as well as the other key elements in a change strategy. To not really understand and plan the leading tasks of change, is to create a change plan that is generic and not necessarily applicable to the change at hand, thus increasing the potential risk for failure.
So, to recap, in order to build resilience in a changing environment the following steps need to be acted upon:
- Use the holistic approach to change by defining the external and internal factors that will influence the organization and the change
- Analyse the data to identify the type of change so there is clarity of the scale and impact of the change on the people and the organization
- Use the ABChange framework to plan how best to lead people through-out the transformation, which include the maintenance and adaptations of the change
- Create a high level of activity along with a high level of engagement to develop sustainability and flexibility to adapt to the changing needs and environments of the people and business.
Being resilient is not about knowing exactly when or where the next disruption will come from, so it can fully be planned. It is about being able to understand all the different factors that could have an impact, so adjustments/amendments or completely new plans can be put in place quickly to help people and organisations flex and adapt to changing environments. To sum it up, resilience is “not waiting for the storms to pass, but learning how to dance in the rain” (Vivian Greene).
Jennifer Bryan is a published author, speaker and Director of Change and Leadership, who has worked with nearly 40 different organisations across multiple industries. She is also a Non Executive Board Member of the ACMP (Association of Change Management Professionals) UK Chapter. She believes in helping people – in whatever capacity she can – by making sure people are thought of first, last and throughout change projects and programmes. She has created a unique leading change framework, the ABChange Model, and uses her commercial insight to help lead people in change. Jennifer is author of Leading People in Change – A practical guide.
Image by Bessi