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Posted by on Aug 1, 2014

Windshield or Bug? — How to Thrive During Change

bugAs both Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dire Straits have pointed out, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.”

This isn’t exactly the case with change in organizations because there are inevitably fewer people leading the change than there are people impacted by a change they don’t control.

Change management practitioners would emphasize that every individual has influence over whether change is accepted in their organization. From change champions to passive accepters to active resistors, everyone can affect change.

In many cases, however, you may neither want to bolster nor derail a change. You just want to find a way to navigate through it with as much benefit and as little disruption as possible. The question is how to do that. When a change is happening in your organization, here are a few tips on how not only to survive, but also to thrive:

  • Un-Divide Your Attention:
    Thoroughly read all the communications about the change. Attend the all-hands meeting without your smartphone. View the webinars – and not while multi-tasking. If you’re relying on the water cooler conversations for information about what is happening, misinformation is a given. Actively listen to what your leaders have to say. Yes, this takes time away from your day-to-day responsibilities, but it’s worth it.
  • Question Authority:
    Do not hesitate to ask questions of your supervisor and senior management about the change. Use your agency discussion boards and other communications forums to get answers. Of course, word your questions wisely. If that’s not possible, seek a safe forum in which to ask the question. If there isn’t a way to submit anonymous questions, reach out to HR to develop one.
  • Just Me, Myself, and I:
    As much as we want to be “all business” at work, our emotions do play a role. Spend some time reflecting on both your practical and emotional reactions. Will the change results in less interaction with a favorite colleague? More interaction with your office’s Andy Bernard (or Mimi for Drew Carey fans, Copy Guy from SNL), and you just can’t take that? Will the change result in more or less interesting work for you? More or less power? Figure out how your feel about the change and WHY you feel that way. Know the lens through which you, as an individual, view the change.
  • Think Globally, Act Locally:
    Communications from leaders often focus on the benefits at the agency level. It is critical you can view the change through that lens, too. If you’ve participated in the change communications and asked questions, you should understand the global situation. Where your efforts are most critical, however, is at the local level. Boots on the ground implications of changes are sometimes missed by senior leaders in change planning. Think through all the implications of the change for your role and team. What are the indirect consequences? Are there any potential issues that need to be addressed? Surfacing them – and addressing them – early prevents later problems for both you and your leadership.
  • Expect the Unexpected:
    No change program goes according to plan. If you enter the change expecting to have to be flexible, you’re less likely to be annoyed when the unexpected happens. Have contingences in place if, for example, a software program is delayed. If you’re scheduling vacation around implementation dates, talk to your manager about what happens if the schedule shifts. Finally, don’t be surprised by the changes in the people. Some super stars may leave the agency. You may see sides of others’ personalities you didn’t expect. Surprises are inevitable. Your resilience may be tested, but you can be prepared for that.

Deepak Chopra said “All great changes are preceded by chaos.”  In the case of change within your organization, you will survive the chaos when you practice listening, asking, introspection, analysis, and resilience. That is how you thrive in situations of change. In the Government right now, change is a constant. Continue to expect the unexpected.

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