Building Resilience For Change — Because The Times They Are A-Changing

Bob Dylan’s words ring as true today as they did when he penned them back in the early ‘60s. And our Federal government workforce is definitely dealing with its fair share of three main drivers of change — people, process, and technology.

Your own team may be dealing with new leadership and staff members; organizational or physical location changes; new policies, regulations, and mandates; revamped processes and procedures; modern technologies, systems, and more. With the increased demands and often decreased resources, maintaining employee engagement and commitment in these changing times is a challenge. And, as a leader, you may be experiencing a bit of a sinking feeling.

So how do you rise up, persevere and shepherd your team, division, or agency through the changes and transitions? How do you combat resistance to change, the loss of intrinsic motivation and engagement, and change fatigue — that apathy and sense of resignation that can happen, not just to your staff but to you as well? Take a cue from those well-versed in the rhetoric of safety in the event of an emergency. Put your oxygen mask on first.

Change is inevitable, so embrace it and seek sustainability. 

Change is an event, but transition is the psychological movement through change, and you need a strategy for helping your people through the critical transition stage. It is uncomfortable, and there are emotional, cognitive, and physical responses to it, including resistance and straight-out opposition. As a leader, you can help your people understand why change is necessary in a way that resonates with and connects to their day-to-day experience. Then help them transition by providing the information and resources they need to adjust, adapt, and succeed in the new environment.

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in the middle that we fear…it’s like being between trapezes.”

— Marilyn Ferguson, American Futurist

If resilience is the ability to adapt to change, agility is the ability to remain flexible while navigating through it. Developing resilience and agility muscles helps build awareness and understanding of the different reactions to change, and that leads to greater ability to meet individuals where they are and support them through the transition.

William Bridges provides a way of understanding and building awareness for the human side of change with his Transition Model, highlighting the three phases people go through:

  1. The Ending: The loss of turf and structure, letting go of attachments, and the breaking of old patterns.
  2. The Neutral Zone: The psychological no man’s land between the old reality and the new reality. The old way of doing things is gone, but the new way is not comfortable yet. It’s both a dangerous and an opportune place – the core of the transition process. Old and maladaptive habits are replaced by new ones that are better suited for the new situation. (This critical phase is where Suntiva expertise shines through!)
  1. The New Beginning: As chaos dissolves, a new form emerges, bringing a new sense of purpose, new energy, and a beginning again.

It’s important to remember that individuals will transition through the phases at their own pace. But with the right tools, training, and guidance, you can lead your people through the phases while creating a shared purpose and identity, healthy and open communication, a psychologically safe environment, productive working relationships, responsibility, and accountability.

Communication, awareness, and understanding are key.

By communicating[1] openly and frequently, you can quadruple the chances of transitioning people from the Neutral Zone to a state of readiness. Communicating why changes are being made, what the future state will look like when the goals are reached, how the team will get there, and how each individual can contribute to success will build engagement and ownership.

Your understanding and awareness of different reactions to change, along with an understanding of the causes of resistance, will help you move people who are stuck in The Ending on through to the New Beginning. You’ll need to be aware of the thinking traps that can slow or block transitioning include jumping to conclusions, tunnel vision, magnifying or minimizing issues, personalizing, externalizing, overgeneralizing, mind reading, and emotional reasoning. Addressing these issues through frequent and open communication—at the right time, in the right manner, and with the right message for the individual—is crucial to success.

During the reorganization of a 4,000+ Federal agency workforce, Suntiva designed and executed change management, stakeholder engagement, and strategic communications initiatives to successfully transition leaders, supervisors, staff, teams, processes, and programs from the existing state to the desired future state.

The big key to moving people through change is letting them know that transition isn’t going to be ad hoc and haphazard. As their leader, it’s important to have a roadmap, to help people understand it, engage them in following it, and remain agile enough to make adjustments when roadblocks pop up. It’s always best to develop in advance a Change Management Plan, a Communications Plan, and an Adoption Management Plan and integrate them into your project management process. But, whatever phase you’re in, even if it’s the middle of an upheaval, there are expert resources available to you…

How Suntiva can help you succeed.

By addressing three major drivers — the changes in 1) systems and technology, 2) procedures and processes, and 3) the people side of it all — we help leaders manage change, communicate effectively, motivate staff, and maintain engagement. Our highly skilled and certified professionals have deep expertise in helping the Federal workforce understand change and successfully navigate through it by integrating change management into the project management process. We combine organizational development, communications, and effectiveness training, and coaching for leaders and teams to help build resilience, agility, and capacity to adapt. That results in engaged employees, increased productivity, lower attrition, greater innovation, and less stress and anxiety. Yes, times are changing — but with some guidance,  you can, too!

Written by Karla Finger and Purvi Dunn

[i] “Best Practices in Change Management, 2018 Edition.” Prosci. Web. 2018.