For many of us, the last twelve months have been a carousel of professional pivots and personal challenges, resulting in a lot of unplanned change. Remote working blurred the boundaries between office and home; the 9-5 became whenever-the-kids-are-at-Zoom-school; ‘you’re on mute’ became the soundtrack to our now virtual meetings and for many of us, anxieties over restructuring and scaling down became a constant and unwelcome companion.
In short, everything changed.
As we emerge into a new normal, how do we equip ourselves and our teams for what this might look like? After a year of relentless uncertainty, how can we continue to successfully manage change by building more change-fit teams?
What is change-fitness?
Change is challenging. It disrupts our existing knowledge and understanding of the world and makes it difficult to accurately predict what will come next. Even when the outcome is ultimately positive, our brains can interpret this uncertainty as a threat, making change a stressful experience that we often try to avoid. For the most part, we really are creatures of habit!
Take the shift to remote working as an example. Previously touted as a benefit by the most flexible of employers, 2020 saw this become a mandate for the majority. Though many organisations acted with impressive alacrity and managed a relatively smooth transition, the adjustment wasn’t always easy! From juggling childcare and virtual meetings to setting up home offices using kitchen tables, laundry baskets and even ironing boards, establishing boundaries between work and home lives was a challenge that many of us found to be more than a little stressful.
This is where change-fitness comes in. Change-fitness refers to a person’s ability to meet the psychological challenges that change can pose. In much the same way as an athlete might be better equipped to tackle physical obstacles, someone who is change-fit is able to tackle the challenge of change with more resilience and less threat to their overall wellbeing.
As we emerge from the pandemic, we’re faced with yet another period of change – and whilst these changes may feel more positive, they can still be challenging! Supporting your team members to be change-fit can have a big impact on how they adapt and ultimately how they and your organisation thrive in this new normal.
How can you support your team to become change-fit?
encourage a growth mindset
Whilst the initial period of remote working gave rise to countless memes, office cocktail hours and some truly brilliant recordings of disastrous virtual meetings, it also brought to light some serious issues. People struggled with technology, communication, collaboration and motivation. In short, many of us just didn’t know how to work from home effectively.
Twelve months later though, multiple studies have reported that productivity has actually increased since the shift to remote working and that the majority of us want to continue working remotely. So what changed?
Whilst a fixed mindset might tell us that our abilities are absolute, a growth mindset allows us to work on the assumption that our talents and abilities are something that we can develop. “I don’t know how to work from home” becomes “I don’t know how to work from home yet”. The same can be applied to learning capacity, technical knowledge, interpersonal skills and virtually any other ability.
Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset emphasises this power of yet and suggests that there are things we can do to move away from a fixed mindset and toward a more optimistic view of our ability to learn and develop.
Becoming change-fit relies on this belief that we can adapt with our circumstances and find new ways to thrive in uncertain environments. Providing learning opportunities and encouraging a growth mindset is essential in supporting your team to thrive through periods of change and beyond.
Want to know more? Take a look at our virtual workshop on developing your growth learning mindset.
Make it ok to fail
In asking your team to adopt a growth mindset, you also ask them to open themselves up to failure – not every new idea or venture will work out.
For many of us, failing at work can be a terrifying prospect. We worry about what our colleagues will think of us, whether our manager will view us as being less competent and whether this may affect future promotions or other career prospects. By viewing failure as a threat though, we risk falling into the habit of avoiding big, risky and possibly brilliant ideas altogether.
In times of change, big ideas are crucial – old methods and systems don’t always work in new circumstances. If you want people to try new things, develop their skills and adapt to the new normal, you must minimise this threat.
Encourage learning and development, welcome new ideas, celebrate innovation and allow people to learn from mistakes without feeling a high level of stress. Make growth and failure two sides of the same coin and demonstrate that both are valued in a truly change-fit team.
Present change as an opportunity
If growth and failure are two sides of the same coin, so too are change and opportunity. Though the last year has often felt like an extreme assault course of unwelcome challenges, it has also given us the opportunity to step back and assess what we’re doing and where we might improve.
The shift to remote working may have been a difficult adjustment, but it also afforded people a degree of flexibility, autonomy and control over their working day that is difficult to achieve in a traditional office. Remote working also opened up a global job market that has the potential to increase diversity in our workplaces – something that has been proven to improve innovation and increase financial results.
Collaboration between these remote and hybrid teams brought its own challenges; however it also encouraged organisations to reassess their communication channels and meeting rhythms, allowing them to take steps to actively improve upon internal systems. We embraced technology, using virtual meeting platforms, instant messaging apps, virtual whiteboards and online project management systems to streamline existing processes and made communication and collaboration more effective.
The challenge of change became an opportunity for change
This belief that we can grow from change is fundamental to developing a change-fit mindset. Search for these opportunities, share them with your team and build a company culture where change is seen as an opportunity rather than a threat.
The importance of empathy
In supporting your team members to be change-fit and find opportunities for growth and development, it’s nevertheless important to understand that not everyone experiences change in the same way. Our internal preferences, motivations and cognitive and communicative styles can affect how we process and adapt to changing circumstances. Change-fitness may not look the same in everyone.
Taking the time to understand the individual preferences of your team members can help you to support them more effectively, and ultimately to help them and your organisation to adapt.
Empathy has also been shown to increase productivity, improve collaboration and encourage innovation. Those big ideas that will help your organisation to thrive in the new normal may just be born from an empathetic approach to change management.
After a year of relentless change and a whole lot more ahead of us, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Supporting your team to be fit in the face of change can make the difference between your organisation surviving and truly thriving in the new normal… whatever that may look like!