June 2020 was a month of change fatigue and calls for change. The ongoing impacts of Covid-19 that have ushered change to every area of our lives and work resulted in a fatigue that sustaining or enduring continuous change brings. Coupled with pandemic related change, there is momentum and international public outcry and demonstrations calling for prompt reforms and massive change to larger structural systems following in the wake of George Floyd’s and other BIPOC deaths.
Big change, like any big goal, has the potential to overwhelm or shut us down. And most often, established systems resist change. The complexity and scale of systems level changes needed and being called forth is big. How can we go about creating and leading change that is sustainable in our workplaces and in our society?
The following is a collection of a few articles from June 2020 that address change in our leadership and change in our systems towards justice and how they intersect with each other.
Adapting to Change as a Differentiator for Organizations
In his article “The Work From Home Experience Will Be a Diffentiator for Organizations“, Jim Love highlights what is often present during the early stages of unanticipated change, a scrambling and patching together solutions (such as getting people working from home during the pandemic). As we realize that at least for now, working from home for many is the ‘new normal’, some employers are now ‘exploring the user experience’ and providing better tools, training, and longer-term solutions to working from home. Working with the change in strategic ways is an opportunity to attract and retain talent. As one of the losses expressed for an at home workforce being the ‘human to human relationships’ that ‘generate a lot of ideas’ this article predicts that the long term new normal will be a hybrid of at home and in-office work.
Community of Practice Co-Leadership Builds Human Relationships
One way we can break down larger change into smaller and specific changes is to strengthen human to human work relationships. As human to human work is seen as one of the major losses in the first article, this article entitled How peer mentors can help you succeed by Ruth Gotian suggests that those with similar shared experiences, pressures, and professions can create supportive learning and growth through a ‘community of practice’ or CoP. This CoP exists to exchange knowledge, information, and opportunities to learn. Traditionally this learning has come through mentoring and peer learning has been overlooked.
According to a new study, loneliness has a big impact on our workplaces. Colleagues matter for social support which contributes to a positive work output. So, as we increase virtual connections, a CoP with peers is a concrete step to re-build the human work connections as shared experiences and challenges provide brainstorming and co-learning opportunities.
Change Requires a Learning Posture Rather Than a Knowing Posture
A community of practice (CoP) co-leadership in the previous article assumes a circular learning and sharing posture rather than a knowing and telling posture. This article written by Time author Eben Shapiro interviews Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in his embrace of learning that starts for each of us with us…not others who need to change.
In response to the Covid-19 changes and larger systemic change required within Microsoft, Nadella states that ‘you can’t ensure your own safety if you don’t ensure the safety of everyone around you’. In Nadella’s leadership, this has grounded him in Carol Dweck’s work around having a growth mindset. In talking about change Nadella states,
“Everybody wants the other person to change and not change themselves, but the reality is that the inner change is the hardest one. That applies to human beings. It applies to societies, countries and the world”
Systemic change starts with each person posturing themselves as a learner and Nadella thinks that if they could go through 2 years of tech changes in 2 months, that they need to ‘embrace the same speed and mindset’ from Covid-19 changes and apply it to systemic racism starting within their organization and then beyond.
We Are Change Averse
Feeling uncertainty is uncomfortable and our natural brain states are motivated to reduce or resolve the uncertainty that change brings as this article on when more information leads to more uncertainty states.
This article identifies strategies for cognitive (processing) and emotional (maintaining mental health) coping to deal with what is identified as ‘3 types of uncertainty’. The 3 types are;
- Probability Uncertainty
- Ambiguity Uncertainty
- Complexity Uncertainty
Even knowing to expect that we will all face this aversion to change gives us a start to coping and leading better and can increase our bandwidth for change.
We Need to Grow Our Adaptability to Change
3 things you’re getting wrong about organizational change by Nadya Zhexembayeva provides some statistics about how often change measures fail, suggesting that there is something wrong with some basic assumptions about how change works. It is the author’s experience (and she points to some research) that by flipping 3 basic assumptions about change upside down that we can get the change results we desire. The 3 assumptions to flip are;
- From follow best practices to share your failures
- From if it ain’t broke don’t fix it to fix it anyway
- From control your assets to share your assets
Adaptability and continuous learning should be part of daily life, with child-like openness to growth. These 3 assumptions reminds of Donella Meadows classic work on Leverage Points in a System and how counterintuitive leverage points for change actually are.
Is There a Common Thread?
What links all these articles together is what is required for change to produce the results intended. As a result of Covid-19, some organizations have found ways to adapt and change at much faster speeds than previously thought possible. Rapid change or paradigm shifting change is also possible when it comes to matters of racial equality and justice, starting with us as individuals, and then as leaders in our families, organizations, communities, and the world.
A few characteristics that we see from these articles that contribute to sustainable change:
- co-learnership and a posture of learning
- being aware of our change aversion and strategizing to overcome this aversion
- being prepared to deal with the predictable feeling of being uncomfortable with change
- flipping our assumptions about how change works
What is the change you want to or need to see in your workplaces? What is the climate and culture of your workforce in adapting to change? We’re here to come alongside for support and we’d love to hear from you! Connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how we can support your change and continue to foster a learning culture in your team.