Learning and Development expert, Shelley Osborne, explains that understanding and accepting change is necessary to thrive.
Change is a constant part of life, but it’s safe to say that the entire world is coping with more change than usual at the moment. We’re all dealing with change and uncertainty in both our personal and professional lives—working from home, caring for children and extended family, and limiting our physical interactions with the outside world.
Understanding and accepting that change is constant and necessary is the key factor for thriving during uncertainty, both at home and in the modern workplace. I refer to this sense of adaptability as change agility, which is all about seeing change as an ongoing opportunity, not as a threat or liability. Considering the current climate, developing change agility as a competency has never been more important.
As a learning and development leader, I’ve given a lot of thought to change agility and its impact on our business and our employees. The current climate of uncertainty definitely increases the need for organizations to embrace change; but, even in times of growth, leaders are tasked with the responsibility to prepare for whatever comes next, whether that’s devising strategies for closing their own skills gap, developing adaptable workers, or supporting upskilling efforts.
Embracing the reality of continuous change
Building change agility within your organization is easier said than done. In my time leading organizations through change (as well as my time as a high school teacher!), I’ve learned five key conditions for individuals, teams, and organizations to become more agile in the face of change:
Be ready for anything
The brain is a helpless prediction machine. We like information and certainty. Without it, we default to the fight part of fight-or-flight mode. The more the brain can predict and make sense of what is happening, the less threatened it feels. By acknowledging the inevitability of change, we can stay in the right mindset to roll with it. Learning and development has a key opportunity here to support the development of both situational awareness, where employees can anticipate the change that’s coming, and self-awareness, so employees can understand their own reactions and feelings.
Think outside the box
The human brain is only two percent of our body weight, but it hogs 20 percent of our energy. It’s wired to try to conserve energy and is conditioned to take the path of least resistance. If we know a way to do something already, why learn a new way? We need to encourage people to innovate and take risks to remain competitive in a given industry. Learning and development can help with simple methods to challenge and adapt entrenched thinking while also identifying the intrinsic and extrinsic value of personal development.
Reappraisal and reframing techniques have been shown to reduce activity in the parts of the brain connected to emotion, allowing us to view the world more objectively and remove perceived threats. For example, with training around change agility, we can learn to reinterpret events and situations in a constructive light, so that anxiety doesn’t interfere with our ability to handle the unexpected.
Change often requires decisions to be taken swiftly, perhaps also in the face of ambiguity. That can put us in threat mode, and the brain responds protectively by falling back on bias or shutting down in decision paralysis. Decision-making frameworks give people steps and guidance on how to process ambiguity while maintaining progress and productivity. As leaders, we can empower those around us to move forward even without the complete picture.
Communicate in change
We are more comfortable with certainty about a negative outcome than we are with generalized uncertainty. That’s why leaders need to become skilled at telling their people what’s happening and assure them they’ll be supported through whatever comes next. The best leaders are pros at putting context around change and guiding their teams through it. More importantly, acknowledging a leader’s own need to change and develop makes it safe for others to do so too.
Especially in these times of uncertainty and unknowns, my call-to-action for leaders is to step up, think differently, and embrace our role as building organizational muscle for change. To learn more about change agility and how it fits into your larger learning strategy and culture of learning, check out The Upskilling Imperative: 5 Ways to Make Learning Core to the Way We Work and Shelley Osborne at theupskillingimperative.com.