“There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction” - Winston Churchill
These days at work tend to be very busy, coinciding with the beginning of the first semester of the Academic Year, a batch of new students, orientation and induction, renovations and new teaching strategies. We have also had a spate of staff changes with the resignations of three key senior executives within three weeks, which has led to a restructure of the top levels of the organisation. This has created quite a few waves that have made some staff rather nervous. It is very difficult for some people to cope with change, especially if change occurs quickly and is widespread. The discomfiture and anxiety that change generates can be a destabilising factor in an organisation unless it is handled carefully.
Change can occur slowly and thus be managed more easily, but often change can occur with dramatic rapidity and be quite widespread, which catches many unwary people off guard and this can have a disruptive influence not only on one’s working life, but also for one’s home life. The effects of change are not only intellectual and emotional, but also physical. The number of people that show symptoms of a physical disease after their emotional and intellectual stability has been seriously compromised is not insignificant.
Fear, anxiety, frustration, despair, anger and excitement are all feelings experienced by people affected by change. It is essential to recognise it is the change that is causing these emotions, not other people. If we centre our response to the change on people, we can lose perspective and lose control. It is essential to remain calm, logical and analytical about the change that is happening. Understanding what exactly is happening and what the change entails is the first way of coping with it. If we understand change, we start to control our response to it. Analysing the situation may show that the change is not what we thought about initially and that a much less exuberant and less emotional approach is needed.
After getting over the initial shock and when we understand what the change is about, it is then that we can begin to actively take control. We can think of what we successfully did in the past and try the same strategies that worked then. When we think of the changes that we initiated in our own life to effect positive transformations in the way we work, live or even ways that we spend our leisure time, we can cope more effectively with the change that is imposed on us by others. It is also important to realise just how much change we allow ourselves to go through – we can control our destiny: Even if it is something as fundamental as changing jobs, for example.
It is essential when coping with change to find a mentor that we trust. It can be a colleague, a family member or a peer. They can give advice, ask important (and sometimes blunt and painful!) questions, challenge our rationale and think through with us the reason for our actions. Mentors are usually not close friends but people whom we trust to be honest with us and are able to force us to be honest with ourselves. A mentor can help refine our strategy, offer suggestions as to the choices that we have available to us (often many of these we may not have considered ourselves). Choices are important as they can help us control the outcome of the change.
Change often challenges our skill base and it is important in any case to continue to learn new things every day. Knowledge, new skills, increasing experience and new expertise in what we do will allow us to cope with change much more easily. Flexibility of attitude and ability to deal with new scenarios – i.e. change – is something that an expanding skill base makes us more adept at when handling all sorts of crises, including dramatic change.
After thinking through the change, considering our options and determining the way that we wish to respond to the change, it is important to plan ahead. We should start with small steps, consider the short-term goals, then progress to bigger steps and longer-term goals. If one of these planned moves fails, it is important that we do not get discouraged and we should persevere. Losing a battle doesn’t mean we will lose the war. We should regroup and replan and try again. At the same time it is important to celebrate our successes. We should so while looking back at where we have come from, what we have achieved and how our plan of action is progressing.
Change is inevitable and change is positive if it is done with good reason. How we cope with it is very much a personal matter and our choices in dealing with it, as well as our plan of action to deal with it, will determine our successful negotiation of all the transformations that change brings about.