We Are Built For Change
When you work in the health sector, you know that something new is always around the corner. When you do communications in the health sector, you’d be lucky to get to the corner without something changing. Change is not just inevitable, it happens faster all the time, we do not walk forward, we leap. At times it can feel overwhelming, yet once it’s complete you may wonder what all the fuss was about, but then, we’re built for change. We are designed to shift, bend and flow in new directions. We are never the same person twice. It’s important to understand that our bodies anticipate change even if our minds shy away.
Consider brain plasticity, it’s a fascinating subject. What it tells us is that even in the face of traumatic physical impact, our brains learn to reroute and work in different ways to accomplish the goals we set out to achieve. When we learn new things, our brains physically change, we forge new neural networks to accommodate our new skills. Conversely, when we don’t think about something for long periods of time, those networks may begin to decline and in some instances may even break. Our brains are a use it or lose it proposition. Our grey matter can thicken or thin depending on what we do. In fact, our brains can change functionally, chemically and physically. We are literally creatures of transition.
When we shy from change or fight it we are fighting our very nature. This does not mean that all change is good or good for us, but that our instincts should be to understand why the change is happening as opposed to fighting it simply because it’s happening. What our body’s reaction to change also tells us is that we should learn to embrace new opportunities as they are presented. We should at least take the time to learn more about the options that are available to us rather than always playing it safe, which is sometimes just another word for stagnant.
I’ve worked with and in many different organizations as they moved through change. Some changes seemed impossible when we started, almost monolithic in scope. Others were more subtle but still required a shift at a fundamental level. I have managed through professional transformations, new service delivery models, technology changes, policy changes and political changes. Although they all held their unique challenges, what stayed consistent were the reactions of people. There were those who keenly embraced the coming transformation, the majority who moved along at a slower rate of change and those who fought it until the very end. When I see broad scale resistance to change I know that there has been a failure to communicate the need for change effectively.
The single most important feature of change management is communications. By that, I don’t mean leadership telling people what they need to change, but involving them in the process of change. This means informing them early and keeping them appraised of change all along the way with persistence and consistency. It involves listening to their input and allowing them to adjust. We are built for change, but we still need to adjust to new tasks. Imposed change does not allow that process to take place in a healthy or efficient way. If we wake up one morning and can’t use our right arm, our brain isn’t going to suddenly reroute and make it useful again. We will need to take time and consistently practice the use of that right arm until the brain redirects messages and finds new pathways or we will need to learn to rely on our left arm, either way, change isn’t instantaneous. When change happens in our personal or work environments it is no different, we need time to adapt. Even when we decide to embrace change ourselves, we still need to take the time to adjust to that decision or we will become overwhelmed.
John P Kotter, former Harvard Business School professor, the founder of Kotter International and well-known author on organizational change management, identifies eight steps for successful change management:
Step 1: Establish a Sense of Urgency: Help others see the need for change and they will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.
Step 2: Create the Guiding Coalition: Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team.
Step 3: Develop a Change Vision: Create a vision to help direct the change effort, and develop strategies for achieving that vision.
Step 4: Communicate the Vision for Buy-in: Make sure as many as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.
Step 5: Empower Broad-based Action: Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision, and encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions.
Step 6: Generate Short-term Wins: Plan for achievements that can easily be made visible, follow-through with those achievements and recognize and reward employees who were involved.
Step 7: Never Let Up: Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision, also hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision, and finally reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents
Step 8: Incorporate Changes into the Culture: Articulate the connections between the new behaviours and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.
What do you do to manage change in your life? Do you race towards change? Do you need time to accommodate change?