Welcoming and Working with Change

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWhen I worked in a fast-paced start-up, change was the norm. Everyone knew it, and I think most of us expected it, but when it came, many of us acted shocked and incredibly annoyed (unless the change was our idea, of course).

Even if I could recognize the benefits of a change, I was usually bothered and joined in on the watercooler grumblings about it. The assumptions behind those grumblings were generally “we should just keep things the way they are,” and “I don’t know what to expect and am afraid of what this change will bring.”

My resistance to change wasn’t a professional issue, it was personal. At this time in my life, I felt completely ungrounded – like I was being thrown around without any kind of anchor. I didn’t have a strong sense of who I was, what worked for me, or what I wanted out of my career, so changes in my environment felt like an assault on any semblance of stability that I had.

Sometimes organizational change fails because the plan and execution are poorly done.

Most of the time, however, it fails because so many of the people who make up the organization lack the groundedness needed in order to integrate change in a healthy way.

We all know that change isn’t going anywhere, a point illustrated in this quote from shamanic practitioner Lena Stevens:

“We are not going back. Evolution only goes in one direction. The increase in energy and complexity is here to stay. So you can adapt or you can suffer. Your choice.”

Instead of being someone who resists, sabotages, or suffers through change, you can be someone who is grounded and healthy enough to work with and actually benefit from it.

A long, but related, side note:

Not all change is good. I hear about a lot of organizational changes that are made simply because people think they have to stay busy or create more complexity. In this post, I’m talking about changes that get your organization closer to its purpose, not changes that are being made simply for the sake of looking busy.

It’s also unfortunate that so much change is mandated from the top of organizations – from people and analysts that are separated from the day to day work itself. Sustainable, healthy change is purposeful and generated from the people who are actually affected by it.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how to welcome and work with change.

I see this happening in three steps:

  1. Get grounded
  2. Intend hard
  3. Let go of outcomes

nature-forest-leaves-groundGetting grounded:

In order to flow with change in a healthy way, we have to get centered on a personal level. As far as I can tell, this means creating a daily practice of getting still, taking regular stock of what’s working or not working, and taking full responsibility for our reaction to change.

Intending hard:

Expecting and welcoming change doesn’t mean that we stop working on the tasks at hand. It does, however, force us to get clearer about the purpose of our work. I’ll give you an example:

One of the biggest projects I’ve worked on was helping an organization switch to a new phone system for its customers, field staff, and internal staff. This was a tough project for many reasons (namely that it was a top-down approach), but it got even tougher because I didn’t push the project team to get clear about why they wanted to make these changes. We all brought our own assumptions about why this major change should be made, but we should have worked through those together and set a stronger, intentional foundation for the project.

Without clear intentions guiding the change, we had a hard time selling it to the organization, our own processes got muddied, and we clung to a prescribed outcome instead of focusing on whatever it took to achieve what we wanted in the end. If I had to do that project over again, my guess is that the outcome would look wildly different.

If you want to be someone who can flow with organizational change, you need to do the work to a) get grounded, and b) get clear about what you intend to create through your work.

Letting go of outcomes:

Let’s say you intend to create a supportive environment for your team members. You’re very clear about that guiding intention, and it informs the work that you do. In order to realize this goal, you start working on a new initiative to build out quiet spaces for staff members to use for yoga, meditation, or to just get a break from the busyness.

As you’re working on this plan and moving it forward, you find out that Rick over in Research & Development is planning to use the same space for more laboratory storage. Old you might have gotten into quite a tizzy about this – talking to your office-mate about how Rick from R&D is such a spoiled brat who gets everything he wants – but grounded, intentional you is more skillful.

Staying centered and committed to your intention of creating a supportive environment for your team members, you can recognize that there are thousands of ways to achieve your intention. You’re aware that building out quiet space is one of those ways, but it’s not your only option, and you’re able to approach Rick and have a conversation that is collaborative and solutions-focused instead of one that’s desperate and accusatory.

Being a critic of change is easy – anyone can do that. Our organizations are full of naysayers and people who are clinging to “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

The question is, can you be different? Can you be grounded, intentional, and creative amidst the change and show the rest of us how to work with it more gracefully?

I have no doubt that you can.


Shameless plug: I’m leading a class on this topic for Portland-area professionals. It’s on July 11th, and I’d love to see you there.

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