Welcome to 2019. Looking back on the past year, there has been a ton of change in the workplace. Technology advances have enabled a more flexible, adaptable, efficient and effective way of working, but not all organizations or workers have embraced these changes – in fact many are still resistant.
If one thing is for certain, in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world of work, change will only continue at an exponential rate. This has significant implications for our work force – which is both exciting and intimidating.
So how do we avoid being slammed by the waves of change and instead anticipate and roll with the waves, and even face them head-on, to build a more resilient organization?
Living in the present moment makes the change around us less harrowing. Think of hiking up a steep hill: Looking down and facing one step at a time is much easier than fixating on the peak, wondering how we will ever get to the top.
If we apply the same principle to our work, we of course need to see the peak and know where we are going. But taking steps one at a time (and sometimes going back some steps to course correct and proceed on a different path – or perhaps to a different peak) will enable us to stress less about the future “what ifs” and past performance, and to focus on the mission at hand. January is always a good time to reflect on the year and commit to being more mindful for the year ahead.
Acknowledge the infinite loop vs. an end state
In recent decades, change management has been a discipline that magically moved an organization from a "current state” to a "future state” through a series of linear and sequential interventions – leader alignment, communications, training, organization redesign, etc.
In this new world of work, we need to think about change as an infinite loop – there is no longer an ending future state but rather a constant realignment to an organization’s purpose through short-, medium- and longer-term goals. Also, workers are demanding, technology is enabling and organizations are committing to more transparency through these transformations. Therefore, leaders must lead differently – and more empathetically – to improve organizational buy-in and engagement, and to reduce disruption and stress.
This includes continuous stakeholder assessment, proactive communication, and involvement of champions across all levels, which is different from top-down approaches most organizations are accustomed to.
Challenge the ‘truths’
A recent animated film called Smallfoot (a role-reversal story about how Bigfoots view humans) illustrates perfectly the dangers of complacency: Truths are set in stone, literally, and worn by the “stone keeper.” Challenging these truths has significant repercussions, including excommunication.
As the story unfolds, a rebellious Bigfoot swears he saw a human, which goes against one of the stones of truth, and thus he is banished from the community – sound familiar? Of course, in this story, he ends up proving himself right (after some waffling, deliberation and covering up to appease the stone keeper), resulting in a happy ending.
Unfortunately, within our organizations, we still have complacence and fear of speaking up against our company’s “truths,” and endings are not always happy. Workers must be open to, and culture must accommodate for, possibilities outside of traditional “truths” and comfortable challenging the status quo. Only then can real change, and hence innovation, happen.
Embrace a new concept of self-identity
In the same movie, a character known as the “gong ringer” is launched against a gong each morning, which triggers the sun to rise. At a critical turning point in the film, the gong ringer misses his launch and the sun rises anyway, causing him to ask “If I am not the gong ringer, then who am I?"
Think about our own jobs, and “gong ringer” roles in our organizations – those who have been highly lauded for decades for doing work that made sense at the time but no longer does – due to automation or reprioritization. We need to encourage in others, and harness in ourselves, a new sense of self and a fresh look at how we provide value to our organizations.
Adopting a “growth mindset” empowers us to take risks, learn, adapt and grow instead of assuming that our talents and abilities are fixed and that we are irrelevant if we are no longer needed to “ring a gong.”
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