The Change Monster has come to the UK….Dealing With Change in the Workplace

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

What a great week for the UK representative of the CPI to be writing a blog.

They say a week is a long time in politics.  Well in the UK, never a truer word has been written.

Just 10 days ago, the UK voted to leave the European Union following the country’s largest ever vote.  52% (or over 17 million people) voted to leave.  To say it has sent the county into a tailspin would be an understatement.

The prime minister has resigned and the nominations for his replacement have already closed, with 5 people contesting the leadership.  The Labour Party, the main opposition party, appears to be imploding with 21 resignations from the shadow cabinet, along with one sacking and a no confidence vote in the leader which was backed by over 80%, yet he is still dogmatically clinging on to his leadership.  The Scottish National Party are taking soundings on a new Scottish independence referendum in order to break up the United Kingdom so that Scotland can remain in the EU.  The Green Party and UK Independence party are also in the midst of a leadership battle. There have been protests in central London at the result of the referendum vote.  The markets have bounced around and there is general uncertainty and mixed views in the City.  Vote Leave supporters are striving to make their voices heard above the fray about the opportunities they feel are now presented by this momentous decision. 

Brexit Flag

Change has indeed come to the UK, and in a big way.

People across the country find themselves on different parts of the well known change curve.  Our ability (or inability) as a nation, to respond effectively to change is impacting the national psyche in a myriad of ways.  How long will it be before the majority feels on the upward trajectory?

Of course, people face change every day in business and it’s no secret that – for most of us - change is unsettling. The ability to lead effectively through change is one of the most important jobs of any leader.

Understand the journey of transition

When faced with change, it helps to understand the journey that both you and your team may go on during the process. Initially, you may find that there is a lot of anxiety, along with perhaps denial about the change and a range of emotions, including fear, about what is to come. Understanding that this is a normal process for most people can help you to come to terms with the change, and start to realise what the opportunities may be, despite the change. Usually, change will have positive outcomes in the workplace, and focusing on these can help a great deal, throughout the journey of transition.

What is in your control?

It is vital to understand what is in your control – as this means that you will be aware of what you can influence. When faced with a situation where change might occur, we can feel a sense of anxiety, because there is a gap between the things that we feel are happening and what we are able to control. By making the effort to identify and take the control that you can, you will find that you are more confident in facing any uncertainty that remains. Try and negotiate to gain some control whenever you can, however if there are things that you simply can’t control, coming to terms with this as quickly as possible is important as it will prevent you from wasting energy on unnecessary anxiety.

What hasn’t actually changed?

It is important that you are able to clearly see what hasn’t changed with regards to the company and your own individual job role. There can be a risk of panic when faced with change, and this means that issues that shouldn’t be affected are actually affected quite heavily. Stay focused on what doesn’t need to change and you can maintain stability and elements of ‘business as usual’ in your workplace.

Try and find the positive

Depending on the extent and personal impact of the change it’s natural to feel some anxiety however panicking is not helpful and sometimes simply thinking about the situation in a different way can help to cope with the change. It is vital to think about the good things in your life, including the skills that you have, your support networks and any positive outcomes that the change could bring. If you are struggling to find anything positive, talk to someone you trust outside the workplace such as a mentor or coach, as they will usually help you to see things from a different and more positive perspective.

Be prepared for all eventualities

Although it is important to stay positive where possible, it is also vital that you have considered your own personal “worst case scenario” and have thought about the practical implications of this. By having a plan in place for everything that could possibly happen, you can make sure that you are equipped to deal with the resultant impact. There may be some situations that you can’t prepare for but whatever you can do to minimise uncertainty will help you and your team to cope more effectively.

Slay the monster - communicate effectively

The more your team knows about what is happening, the more they will be able to prepare themselves for the change that is going to occur. If rumours are allowed to circulate around the workplace, this can be incredibly damaging to morale, so if you provide the team with the truth right from the start, this can be prevented. Even if the truth is “I don’t know the answer to that right now” it’s is better to say this than to say nothing. Recognise that emotions may be running high and gaps in factual knowledge will quickly be filled by conjecture and speculation, so truthfulness and openness will almost certainly be worth it in the long term.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

When going through a period of change, it can be easy to get hung up on small details and self imposed deadlines – however it is much better to try and stay calm and look at the bigger picture,  focusing on the overall goals and required outcome of the change. This is likely to lead to the best possible outcome for both the organisation and the individual, which is of course the ultimate goal in any period of change.

Change is unsettling.  The Kubler Ross inspired transition curve clearly shows how people react to change.  

Change Process

How quickly people move on from their personal low point and start to move forward can be dramatically impacted by the quality and quantity of the communication and support that they receive.  In the workplace, enabling practical, positively focused coaching conversations and putting in place a structured communication framework to help people to manage and deal with change, ensures that any organisation can limit the negative effects of change and enable positive progress.

For UK plc, we also need to do the same – once that is, we have a new leader and the political turmoil has died down!

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