Flowing with the currents of change

In one of the organizations where my partner and I are training coaches, there seems to be a new "emerging issue" monthly. One of my colleagues defined emerging issue this way: something that suddenly becomes the top priority.
Everyone in the organization needs to develop resilience in order to move through these emerging issues with any sense of balance and productivity. A lot of time and energy can be squandered on reacting to unexpected change, on sitting around asking each other, "Geez, what’re we gonna do now? Can you believe this?"
I developed a model named FLOW, to help clients strengthen their resilience in the face of change. We all are aware that the pace of change will not slow down. The more we are technology driven and the more global our networks, the more rapidly new issues will emerge. When clients complain, "It’s always something," I encourage them to reframe their response to that perspective. It better be always something, rather than always nothing. If you’re in a serene business environment, other than a spa, start updating your resume.
So FLOW begins with "forget about managing change." There is an entire industry around change management, and many organizations have been ably guided through "planned" change; rolling it out in stages, offering support for employees along the way, designing a well-thought-out communications strategy. I’m sure there is still a need for this genre of consulting to ease the implementation of changes within a system.
More and more, though, I see organizations dealing with changes that come from turbulence in the environment. More rapid than eagles, these changes they come. A competitor cuts prices 15% after moving all manufacturing to China. Financial projections dictate slashing in expenses. New regulations render your top product obsolete. In these times, we rarely have the luxury of an orderly transition from one state to another. Delivering information about the change strategy on a "need-to-know" basis is probably counter-productive now. The public’s thirst for transparency is irreversible. Developing resilience within the people will lead to resilience within the system and proves more effective than attempts to "manage" change.
"Letting go" is a key strength in building resilience. Leadership coaching can help people develop the ability to let go of the old ways of doing things, while reorienting to focus on the new way. William Bridges, in his book Profiles in Coaching: The 2004 Handbook of Best Practices in Leadership Coaching, calls transition "the psychological realignment of people to make the change work."
Bridges started talking about this 20 years ago and many people still don’t get it. Coaching helps leaders through their own transitions and builds competencies to help others. I think leaders used to believe that enough charisma would do the trick. Research is revealing that charismatic leadership is negatively associated with sustainability in today’s environment of rapidly emerging issues.
"Open yourself to possibilities" is the next step. I think if leaders set aside time each day to make room for their own creativity to spill ideas and insights into the air, they will find better guidance than they will through any consultant, coach or boss. We need open space to do this. We need daily time alone, to make judgments about new issues, to relax with ambiguity, to eliminate the fantasy of a "right" answer and to replace rigidity with flexibility. Gradually, self-trust grows, trust in the inner workings of your psyche and your imagination — that great gift that kids use so easily and adults often let go to rust.
"Want change!" That’s the ultimate step in this resilience building. You might be asking, Why would I want change? For me, it’s akin to wanting snow if you live in Wisconsin as I do. It’s gonna happen, so I buy skis and snowshoes and set about making snow positive in my life.
The living and non-living universe always spontaneously changes. Even our bodies are constantly changing, in some ways we notice and in many others that are out of our awareness. There is no growth without change.
Reframing our attitudes about change can start with examining our self-talk and public talk about change. Listen in to your own thinking. Do you mentally repeat phrases like, "What now?" "Just when things were ironing out — wham! Something new!" This language has power to shape our attitudes and our behavior. We usually pick it up listening to our families or sometimes we hear a lot of that kind of talk in our organizations. It cripples our ability to lean into change, to develop flexibility and resilience. The great news is that we can change that private and public language. Think of some phrases that are compatible with a positive attitude about change and practice those.
We can all develop more resilience to call on during change (which is constant, remember). I invite you to play with this form of professional development, and I’d like to hear how you’re doing. Being resilient in the face of change is a powerful tool toward feeling more joy at being alive.

Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay and can be reached at 414-332-0300, or jo@hawkinsdonovan.com. The firm’s Web site is www.hawkinsdonovan.com. Hawkins Donovan will respond to your questions in this column. Her column appears in every other issue of SBT.

Feb. 20, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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