We Are Built For Change

We Are Built For ChangeWhen 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 gray 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, the thing that 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, founder of Kotter International and well know 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 behaviors 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?

About Debra Yearwood

Experienced communications and public relations executive who manages challenges with an eye on outcomes and a sense of humour. Learn more about how I think at https://commstorm.com/ Learn more about my experience at ca.linkedin.com/in/debrayearwood/
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32 Responses to We Are Built For Change

  1. Derek Brown says:

    Great post! I thrive on change. I struggle with no change. 😁

  2. Susan Cooper says:

    I agree with Jacquie that tho built for change many people are very hesitant to change. I try to embrace change but sometimes when things are constantly changing it is difficult. 🙂

    • Every once in a while I find myself digging in my heels about a change and I have to always ask why. Is the change bad, harmful or am I just reluctant to be challenged. Sometimes its just that the momentum of change has picked up to a point that its not possible to process, then change isn’t just difficult, it can be impossible.

  3. patweber says:

    In times of change that I didn’t ask for, I remind myself, “Hey, I am a change maker so let’s make it.” Generally I am the first to do something, try something. But when change is imposed from the outside, and it is poorly communicated, mainly without ANY input or turning a deaf ear, I have to remember to step into my core.

    Then all your steps, they help me when I walk them. As always Debra, terrific.

    • Thanks Pat. I am often left to wonder what leaders are thinking when they try to impose change without dialogue. It’s such productivity destroyer that I can’t see what they gain. Most people don’t have the information or insight to take the steps they need to manage through a situation like that, so it can impact morale too, all in all, not a plan for success.

  4. Everything you’ve outlined here is so true. I worked at a brain health sciences centre for a few years and got to know a couple of actual brain scientists. The brain is a marvellously elastic instrument, and you’ve made some bang-on parallels. Change is scary and stressful, even when it’s a change for the better. The more gradually it happens, and the more you involve people, the less traumatic it’s going to be. A support system works wonders – I’m lucky to have good friends in my life to help me with the more difficult transitions.

  5. Arleen says:

    Debra another great post. You can tell you are really a deep thinking person.
    Yes we are built for change but I also think it is hard when you reach a certain age to accept change like you did when you were younger. However, change is good if you don’t leap into alot of changes at one time. I just went through a major change. My web developer of 3 1/2 years decided to open a Karate business. For the first time in my life I didn’t freak out because this big change came. I looked at differently as this is going to be the best thing that has happened. Fresh new views. I am embracing the change.

    • Thanks Arleen. I have to say I felt we were completely sympatico this week as your post, “Business Innovation Is Our Forte“was the perfect compliment to mine and very inspiring. You can’t innovate without accepting change.

      I know first hand how disruptive losing your developer is, we lost our regular developer in my office a few years ago and it took quite a while to adjust. You’ve got the right attitude seeing the change as an opportunity to invigorate and embrace fresh ideas. Speaking of change, from developer to karate business…that’s subtle. 🙂

  6. Diana says:

    great post, Debra! the 8-th step is the culprit for many when it comes to changes in the company…

    And i shared it on social media but let me say it here as well – i simply LOVED the realization “When I see broad scale resistance to change I know that there has been a failure to communicate the need for change effectively.” – so true! It’s often seen to blame the resistance on being stubborn, or old-fashion, or even stupid if you want – rarely people look further and ask themselves “what did I NOT do right to get the team on board with this change?”

    Reading your post – i was thinking also… hm, ok, i am good with changes. i quit my 9-to-5 job and became a freelancer – great change, i embrace it. I don’t have a problem with leaving a client because they have become boring; or taking up new work because it is extremely interesting, although challenging and unknown… I have absolutely no problem packing my bags and relocating to another country! But i have a HUGE problem if the local supermarket has run out of my coffee brand and i need to settle for a substitute or worse – skip my morning coffee the next day. What does this say about me? LOL

    • Thanks Diana. Laying resistance to change solely at the feet of the people that change is imposed upon without taking the time to investigate what’s behind the resistance is a bit like blaming the victim. It’s thoughtless, lazy and it’s pointless.

      I like that you apply the same principles to your current work that you did to your old job, if you don’t like it, you leave it. I’ve see many freelancers get trapped in unhealthy work relationships with clients that they no longer like or continue to work on projects they have no interest in. They do it for the money, but fail to realize that their lack of engagement will be reflected in the work they do and sooner or later the client will let them go. They may as well plan their own exit strategy instead of waiting for the client to get fed up and possibly causing damage to their reputation.

  7. TheRecipeHunter says:

    Great subject! For me, I’ve always embraced change. I’ve also been an instigator of change when deemed necessary. I agree with one of the other commenters, my favorite line is this “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.” I’ve found that leadership sometimes reacts negatively to change not because of the change itself, but because it wasn’t their idea. This sets them apart from leaders who embrace the vision of others in a common goal to make the company/process/experience/etc. better for the clients. Thanks for a great article!

    • Great point, raising that leaders can be the ones who are resistant to change. When you think about it, it’s kind of ridiculous to think that just because you are the leader you can imagine more and think all thoughts about all things. This is especially silly in situations where the employees are out working close to the products or delivering services and the leader is back in an office. Thanks for visiting and commenting on my post.

  8. Agree with you completely, Debra. Change is a constant in life, for better or for worse, so there is no point in fighting it. Professor Kotter’s suggestions are to the point. When it’s a change you don’t like it helps to decide to be enthusiastic about the inevitable.

  9. I like the steps you have laid out. Seems many of the places I have worked at skipped most of them when change was coming. Of course the resistance to change was huge when this happened.

    • Jon for some reason people occasionally decide that the best way to make change happen is through force. It’s an interesting theory and may work on a war front, but mostly, it’s a great way to fail.

      • I think one that I see quite often Is the sneaky change. Make the change but don’t tell anyone that would be involved until questions come up. Standard answer to these questions “it has always been done this way.”

        • The sneaky change has always been a bit of a pet peeve of mine. There is something inherently dishonest about it. I also dislike it because it’s generally after it blows up that the communications and relations folks get called in to help manage it.

  10. I definitely need time to adjust to change, but I also know the times I have been happiest in my life have been when I wasn’t afraid to take the plunge. The only thing we can be certain of in life is that it’s going to change, though we often try our best to keep things at an even keel. I’ve always felt I am in the process of becoming, so I try not to let change upset me too much. Though I have realized that going cold turkey into writing and editing when I quit my teaching job didn’t do myself any favors. If only I would have laid a bit more groundwork… Oh well. Here’s to kicking and screaming. Eventually we find our way 🙂

    • You know I’m never sure about cold turkey. As many times as I have jumped off the cliff and subsequently made fun of myself for not doing better planning the allure of “just doing it” can be appealing. Having said that, I can’t remember a time when being strategic didn’t work out. Unless you’re in the middle of the countryside debating whether you should buy an antique (personal experience), giving an idea some thought before you make a decision, planning for change before you implement, is always a good idea.

  11. alisonwiley says:

    Great topic, Debra. I have been known to embrace change, for example, in my organization’s recent reorg. The changes brought us much closer to our clients (providers of rural transit) and made us better at what we do. And yes, we employees were involved in the change process.

    My favorite part of your post: 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.

    • Alison I totally agree with you about how getting closer makes you better. In business any change that brings you closer to your clients is a gift. I had the pleasure of spending most of this week visiting one of our sites and going out with one of our nurses on her rounds. When I see first hand what they do for our clients, it’s reinvigorating. It’s hard to get things in focus when you’re operating at a distance. Thanks for the kind words on my post.

  12. Simone Hart says:

    I have mostly loved change. I find it stimulating. I enjoy looking for new foods, recipes, authors, techniques, new methods and friends. I do find as I get older that the need for consistent order is growing. Keys placed in the same place, a familiar layout at the grocery stores I frequent.
    Change might not frighten people so much if the path to the change was mapped out clearly.

    • I love your attitude towards change. I think your attitude stems from your love of life in general. I completely agree about giving people a path, letting them anticipate the steps so they know when and if they need to prepare themselves for the next move.

  13. Lorraine Marie Reguly says:

    Change is tougher for me as I get older (like a lot of other things!) but I am more willing to accept it and try to embrace it than I used to. I realize that this sounds a bit like an oxymoron, but ever since acquiring my computer 8 months ago, I have made so many changes in my life. I cannot imagine my life without a computer anymore, and I lived laptopless all of my life. My mom even has a tablet now, thanks to my sister! Technology is a big thing for me; I’m not very techie so I tend to obsess about this topic. I’m getting better, though!

    • I find it surprising that you have a hard time with change. Since I have met you, you have consistently tried new things. How to make a video, how to record an interview online, how to capture quotes in your blog that people can easily tweet are but a few. You are always trying something new…all the time. If this is you having a hard time with change you must have been pure spirit when you were younger. 🙂

      • Lorraine Marie Reguly says:

        I have always been the type to do what I wanted.

        When I want to learn, I do. I may struggle (especially with technical issues), but I try to do my best, always.

        I think that most of my resistance to change is to learn techie things. It’s hard. Fortunately, most of the technology nowadays does the work for you.

        There is so much I don’t understand, and don’t want to. I think some of my problems come from my stubbornness. If I don’t want to learn, I won’t even try. If I have an interest in it, watch out! 😉

        • Technology used to seem quite intimidating to me but you’re right, it’s so much easier now. If the technology I’m interested in doesn’t come with clear instructions, then someone has probably written a blog explaining how it all works. 🙂

  14. LOVE this post! We may be built for change but most humans are sill resistant. Like you, there have many times when I have looked back and thought, “Wow…why was I fighting that.” Setting up short term wins is a brilliant step in the above strategy. Even for personal goals, it’s a great plan

    • Isn’t it strange how often we forget to celebrate the little wins? I’ve been on the phone multiple times with a group of leaders who talked non stop about the problems they were facing. When they were asked to talk about the things they could celebrate, crickets from across the county could be heard. We need to orient ourselves to the positive.

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