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Can You Thrive In The Midst Of Change?

BY Michelle McQuaid

Is the pace of change at work wearing you out?  Does the thought of one more disruption to your carefully laid plans have you heading for a long Netflix binge on the couch?  Are you fed up with falling short of your goals no matter how much resilience, determination and grit you put in?

You’re not alone.  As the global pandemic continues to wreak uncertainty and chaos, it can be increasingly challenging not to slip towards a state of learned helplessness and feel we have little or no control over the situations in which we find ourselves.  But what if instead of trying to “manage” the changes we experience at work, we learned how to “navigate” the challenges and opportunities they bring?

“Unfortunately, industrial age principles have left behind a legacy of antiquated mindsets that have many of us stuck still believing that change is something to be managed,” explained Dr. Lindsey Godwin, Robert P. Stiller Endowed Chair, Professor of Management, and Academic Director of the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College, when I interviewed her recently. “But today we know that our environments are prone to ambiguity, complexity and ongoing disruptions. So rather than trying to manage change as a discreet event with a clear beginning, middle and end, we need to embrace the reality that in most situations change is an ongoing process of doing, learning and pivoting.”

So, can we help each other to navigate change more successfully at work?

Recent research by The Change Lab found that despite all the turbulence, disruption, uncertainty and changes organizations are facing, nearly 40% of Australian workers report that their teams and workplaces have been consistently thriving despite challenges.

Thriving – even in the midst of struggle – requires the ability, motivation and psychological safety for us to navigate change.  To support thriving, the research suggests that workplaces need to prioritize training, coaching and other tools to help workers feel more confident to individually and collectively learn and grow, as they navigate the chaos and order that change inherently brings.

Lindsey also recommended:

  • Letting go of control – As a leader, try not to confuse the need for control with the desire for order. Instead, create psychologically safe spaces where your people can be guided by their shared vision and values, and encourage them to take meaningful, independent and collective actions that benefit your organization and everyone who depends on it.  Remember, what you and your organization need are committed, not compliant, people.
  • Inviting-and-Inquiring – Workers whose leaders took an invite-and-inquire change approach (where workers’ input to solutions was invited, and they were encouraged to self-organize and find ways to make the best ideas happen), and leaders who took a tell-and-inquire change approach (where workers were told what was expected and then left alone to get on with it) were significantly more likely to report that the changes in their workplace were very successful vs. somewhat successful. Notably, workers whose leaders took an invite-and-inquire change approach were statistically more likely to report higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction and commitment to their organization.  The most successful workplaces appear to create a working environment that gives workers the freedom to willingly take responsibility for finding ways to make the desired changes happen.
  • Creating coaching cultures – As might be expected, workers who reported having frequent coaching conversations with a leader and/or a professional coach were statistically more likely to have higher levels of change ability, change motivation and psychological safety than other workers. What was surprising was that the research also found this was true for the 28% of workers who reported feeling completely able to have coaching conversations with others at work.  These workers were also statistically more likely to feel that their teams and workplace were consistently thriving or working well, despite having some struggles when it came to the changes they’d experienced.  Creating a coaching culture in your workplace can help create psychological safety, cultivate confidence and trust, build strong relationships, and foster the realization that the answers to challenges can lie within.  Change becomes a co-constructed, shared-sense-making process and builds the muscles for both your people and your organization to navigate ongoing disruption.

How can you help people amplify their change capabilities at work?

To discover more evidence-based practices to help people thrive at work, check out the Making Positive Psychology Work Podcast, and follow The Change Lab on LinkedIn.

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