To say the constancy of change is a reality for organisations, business leaders, and employees is to state the obvious. When it comes to change, noting the obvious, just causes frustration because we are all trying to cope with the rate of change in the best way, we know possible.
How do we adapt to and thrive in environments of constant change?
Much of the literature on change management within the workplace is written from a 20th-century perspective. In this perspective, change was usually planned and executed in an orderly manner and the impact was reviewed and assessed against the agreed outcomes.
In this model, business owners and leaders are encouraged to communicate with staff and include them in the change process, building the capacity of those staff who are change agents and can bring other staff along in the change process and be clear about the positive outcomes that will be achieved, and which will benefit not only the workplace but individual employees.
However, in the 21st century, particularly post-COVID, such a model is no longer practical or the reality because of the rate of change. Change has become messier, often occurring on multiple fronts simultaneously. The intended outcomes often vary as new factors within the work environment come to light. This can result in rapidly changing goals and outcomes which adds to the confusion of the change process.
Change processes are being driven by philosophies such as.
In many situations, the change process is driven by multiple philosophies.The rapidity and volume of change mean that for many business leaders, their ability to deal with change effectively is frayed as they need help with their sense of overwhelm and frustration in surviving the change processes they have initiated.
For many leaders, it feels like being caught in a rough surf. No sooner do you get your head above water than the next wave of change is cresting above you, and you must make quick decisions on how to survive the oncoming wave.
Author Tara Haelle has written about our surge capacity, which is the collection of mental and physical adaptive systems that we draw on to manage short-term stressful situations and change. The emphasis is on dealing with short-term situations. Once the situation has passed, we need to return to a resting state that allows our surge capacity to recharge.
For many people, their surge capacity has blown a fuse because of the long-term uncertainty and stress caused by the pandemic. A study by Gartner in 2022 found that the amount of change employees could cope with was 50%, down from what it was in 2019. This was one year into the pandemic. Most people still had to get through to 2022 before life resumed some sense of normality. The ongoing uncertainty and stress of COVID have drained many people’s surge capacity.
When opportunities for recharging your surge capacity are not available, the result is exhaustion, fatigue and becoming disengaged. Hence the increase in discussion about quiet quitting.
When our surge capacity is exhausted how do we manage ongoing change?
Change creates stress. Often, we view stress as an overwhelming, overpowering response to a situation. In these scenarios, we feel helpless, almost a victim, contributing to further stress and overwhelm. Stress has three components:
Breaking down stress into its components gives us more control over our emotions and thinking. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, we can begin to take steps to manage our stress reaction. For example, we may not be able to change the objective characteristics of our environment; however, we can change how we perceive these characteristics. Or we can learn new coping strategies and increase the resources available to manage our response.
If we apply this definition of stress to our response to the constancy of change, we may not be able to change the rate at which change occurs. The rate of change may be the objective characteristic of our current environment.
We can, however, change our perception of the changes we are experiencing. For example:
> We think that after we get through this situation, life should return to normal. This expectation has to do with our definition of what normal is, which usually has to do with us being undisturbed by the messiness of change.
These expectations add to our levels of stress. When we change our expectations, our coping strategies often improve. We can then build the resources to manage the stress of change more effectively.
In his book Open to Think, Dan Pontefract argues that to truly be creative in a world of change, we need to significantly slow down and focus on quality rather than quantity. Slowing down in this way can seem wholly counter-intuitive in a world that is constantly speeding up, but the idea is that we need to slow down to cope with change truly and effectively .
April Rinne’s book on Flux mindset talks about the importance of trust in managing the constancy of change.
One of the impacts of stress is it causes us to be less trusting. Rinne argues that developing a default position of trust is crucial if we are to open ourselves up to new ideas, new contacts, and the possibilities that a changing world offers us.
Hence, another of the coping strategies we can develop to reduce the stress of dealing with constant change is to create a default position of trust. Just as slowing down seems counter-intuitive in a society that is speeding up, developing trust seems counter-intuitive when trust appears in short supply.
We live in an era where trust is at a particularly low ebb. Various surveys illustrate that trust in various institutions is at incredibly low levels, but this mistrust mustn’t feed into how we feel about each other .
Faced with the constancy of change, we must find ways to build and enhance trust between each other, not just co-workers but also between management and staff.
In developing a default position of trust for ourselves and finding ways to build trust, we will create a mindset and attitude that can deal more effectively with the constancy of change.