Early in my professional life, I was a Team Leader in an office environment. I was tasked with implementing some changes that would require people to work in new ways. One of these changes was to establish new teams and have people sat together in their team groups.
This was in the days before hot-desking and touch-down desks. People had sat at the same space every day, personalised it with photos & plants and had formed relationships with their desk neighbours.
It worked well for longer serving staff but newer people were excluded and lacked any opportunity for collaborative working and skills-transfer with more experienced colleagues. So, along came the new seating plan.
Despite consultation and explanation, a small cohort took exception to being asked to move and their backlash was savage. Anyone who has worked in a large office will be familiar with the politics of the tiny territory that is a desk. It was a briefly uncomfortable time for everyone but the teams were shuffled, people moved and we settled into a new way of working. Except one person.
Jane (not her real name) had worked there for a long time and had always sat at a particular desk. She refused to move from it or engage with any of the other changes and (for reasons I won’t go into) it was decided to just leave her to it.
She was triumphant for a while, working in the old way and sat at her usual spot. The problem was, everything else was changing around her. Whether she changed or not, things were no longer the same. I’ll leave you to guess what eventually happened.
We have all been Jane, at some point. Stubbornly sticking with what we know rather than adapting, even when it begins to harm us. The problem with staying the same is that nothing else ever does.
Change is inevitable.
The hard truth is that if you stay still, you will be left behind…or run over. To avoid change being done to us, it is important to develop our ability to adapt and expand our toolkit of things that help us to do this. That doesn’t mean that we need to spin like weather vanes, responding to every single change that comes along and constantly altering our state. Rather, think of responding to change in the same way that we respond to the weather.
We know that the weather doesn’t stay the same for long, especially here in the UK. We can prepare by reading the forecast or looking out of the window but there is always a chance that it will change. We know this, through our experience and that helps us to accept it (doesn’t mean we like it!)
On those rare days of glorious sunshine, we dress accordingly. For some, that’s smaller, lighter clothing so we can soak up the rays. For others, it’s cool linens that cover and protect the skin. Neither is wrong. And when the sun is out, we don’t throw our umbrella in the bin because it’s no longer raining. We store it away, knowing that it is useful and will be needed again in the future.
I haven’t thought about Jane for well over a decade. As I reflect now, I see that I could have handled things better. I was young and fairly new to management and because the changes made sense to me, I couldn’t see why they wouldn’t make sense to everyone. I failed to treat Jane as an individual and I didn’t make a good enough effort to get to the root of her resistance.
As an experienced leader and coach, I know now that resistance to change is never simply just ‘because I don’t want to‘. Change can make us feel vulnerable, nervous or even scared. Those of us in positions of leading change have a responsibility to create a safe space for people to ‘try on’ change in a way that is appropriate for them not us.
Just because change isn’t easy, doesn’t mean it has to be hard.
Facing Change Fearlessly is our short course in understanding change and how you can respond to it in a way that works positively for you. To help you get 2022 off to a great start, we have made the course free until Monday 31st January 2022. There are four sessions, delivered to your inbox and you can take it at your own pace. Just send us an email with the subject FCF.