Facing Change

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Change is coming, embrace change, the only constant these days is change — how often have you heard the phrases? Unless you’ve withdrawn from human society and live in solitude and your job title is “hermit,” these sayings are about your life and workplace.

Fear is a common reaction to change. People are often afraid of what they don’t understand. Gerry Brimacombe of Sector Learning Solutions, which trains people in new software and technology devices, has some thoughts on the process of change.
“It’s coming faster and faster all the time, especially in technology. Five years ago, Sector would ask students enrolled in a class “do you have email?” Now, it’s a given everyone has email.
Employment counsellor Marilyn Henigman agrees. “There are a lot of changes happening and they’re coming at a faster pace.” She provides guidance to people who are looking for work, sometimes the older unemployed. Henigman favours a different word over change. “We mostly talk about transition… It’s a journey.” It’s from the root word “transit,” meaning travel or a passage.
Bill Brownlee, who started teaching at age 19 and retired as a school superintendent, used to lecture at University of Victoria to teachers in training on change and the ways to implement it. There’s the rational approach: laying out the facts. It’s “actually the most useless approach,” he says. Inertia is usually too strong in an organization for common sense to work.
On the other hand, what he’s found to be the most effective is the “what’s-in-it-for-me?” approach. There’s also the organic way, letting change simply come up, which happens in many organizations, usually very slowly. “It tends to be difficult to wait.” Another method is “change the culture,” bringing in people who will achieve a change.
{advertisement} Change also is made by politicians or dictated by economic forces, such as funding cuts in programs. “Simply by passing a law, they can force a change,” says Brownlee. It’s upsetting and it comes with a lot of turmoil.
Most organizations use all of these methods, he says, offering a down-to-earth metaphor for the process.
“Change is like a garden party. Some people come for the food, some people come for the conversation, some are forced to come, and some people don’t know why they came,” says Brownlee.
Remember “no amount of knowledge is going to produce a change.” There needs to be pressure for an organization to change. “You’ve got to assume it’s going to be frustrating,” says Brownlee, who also adds words like discouraging, upsetting, and chaotic. Change is messy.
How change affects someone can depend on their personality type, Henigman says. Remember instances of upheaval earlier in your life, she asks clients, like leaving home, struggling at school, finding work. The message is: “Well, I survived that. What skills did I have to cope with that?”
She refers to other sectors of the economy, for example, the auto industry. Realize that it’s probably “never going to be the same again,” she says.
Reaction to change can determine how the change plays out. In a nutshell, Brimacombe says imposing change from the top down is a losing proposition. “Recognize where you’re going, recognize in your business how it affects the people, and respect the people.
If you try to steamroller them, it’s not going to work.”
Information given out without a chance for those affected to provide feedback isn’t effective. You need to provide people with an opportunity to voice their concerns, he says. “Get used to it or get out,” is not a very effective way of producing change, says Brownlee, from his decades of experience in the public school system. A lot of leaders think their idea of change is the only way, he says. An organization needs critical mass to achieve change and needs most of the leaders and opinion shapers on side.
Brimacombe’s training firm is part of a big change project — helping to train 34,000 provincial public sector employees on a new computer operating system, Vista from Microsoft, the successor to Windows that every office worker has been comfortable with for a decade. It’s commonplace to hear someone say: “I just got used to this, so why are you changing this on me?”
Brimacombe doesn’t mind using corny techniques. “The way I’ll present it is, it’s Christmas coming and a whole bunch of new toys.” Everyone likes the analogy. “You get them excited about the change.”
Teaching new software seems universal, but depending where you work, people approach the prospect differently. Government workers aren’t typically considered entrepreneurial in work style. Entrepreneurs are looking for change all the time, especially something that provides an edge on the competition and might increase profits, while the public sector is looking to reduce risk, he says.
Business owners should know that the change they welcome could be experienced as chaos by others. People facing major change — at work or in their lives — may want to just hunker down, retreat in the face of it, Henigman says. Some might feel they are victims of external forces beyond their control; others might see something new opening up. The reactions and coping mechanisms vary. These days, alcohol consumption is up; stressed-out workers still go shopping.
Henigman calls the challenge facing people who have lost their jobs as an opportunity. Tell yourself: “This is a great opportunity for a lot of things to happen in my life. Only when there is change do new opportunities enter the picture and we notice them.” Seek out others going through the same thing, she advises. “How am I going to actively engage in this change to make it good for me?” It can be a time of more reflection for some people, who ask “what is the core value of my life?”
“It’s a time for renewed purposes, renewed meaning in my life,” can be one way to approach it. List the positives in your life: family, friends, your community, perhaps your church. “It’s what’s given them their baseline value and purpose in life,” Henigman says.
Focus on the immediate is another strategy when change is coming. “Stay in the moment,” she suggests. “You have way more control over your moment, than what’s coming down the road,” she says.