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Fostering Change Agility

Just hearing leadership utter the word "change" can trigger our sympathetic nervous system, with all the resultant fun of the "fight/flight/freeze/faint" response. (Adrenaline hangover, anyone?)

We don't even have to know all (or any!) of the details about this impending change for our bodies to react, and repeated or prolonged stress from dealing with change (even good change) can really interfere with our ability to function. There is an abundance of scholarly literature describing the impact of prolonged stress on the human body and mind, and generally speaking, the consensus is it's not an ideal state. It's meant to be a reaction, not a lifestyle!

Stressed Woman

Today's workplace looks a lot different than my parents' or grandparent's experience. Median job tenure, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2016, is around 4.2 years, and The Atlantic reported that 2015 was a record year for mergers and acquisitions. If you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing those first-hand, they're usually fraught with intense changes for those involved, and can take years for the resulting dust to settle!

I am always keenly interested in how organizations manage change, planned or not. After all, why reinvent the wheel? If somebody finds a great idea for helping steer their team (or company) through the turbulent waters of change, I want to know about it so I can leverage that tool when (not if) new changes happen in my circles of influence!

We know that about 70% of transformation efforts fail, and the root causes tend to be things like unclear priorities or goals, too much change in the same time frame (#ChangeFatigue is highly effective DEmotivator!), and I would add lack of consistent, skilled change management. Organizations tend to think that managers by definition already have the skills needed to manage change (including the mental and emotional impacts of that change) and fail to provide training or support to facilitate adequately, believing it just falls under the umbrella of "management skills".

So what's a forward-thinking organization to do? Change is the new normal, in many ways. I don't think every company needs a fully staffed Change Management Office. There is a skill set particular to managing change, however, and investing in the training and opportunities to develop and hone those skills will pay off over time. Having clearly identified and recognizable change management initiatives in place also helps reduce or even eliminate redundant efforts that often contribute to change fatigue.

Most importantly, the organizational culture needs to reflect the new reality that change is a necessary part of life. It's tempting to frame change as "just something we need to get through," and while this can help mitigate immediate panic, it doesn't help grow the type of intellectual and organizational flexibility that it takes to become truly change agile. By embracing and intentionally, proactively managing change, organizations can create space for change to be less disruptive and more easily navigated by all.

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