It's not unheard of to hear people talk about the inevitability of change. History from all ages shows the impact and reaction that change has on individuals, groups, and civilisations.
We most often hear about the negative side of change. This is especially true when change has been inflicted or comes as a surprise. But there are, of course, benefits to change. For example, change can be a place of personal growth and an opportunity for collaboration and societal learning.
This blog delves into workplace change and examines why our response to change and transitioning is so personal. We also share three ways leadership coaching supports organisational change.
In this day and age, it is rare, even impossible, not to experience changes in your world of work.
As an employee, change is most often done to you. This change may look like a situation such as a re-structure, merger, buyout, redundancy, hybrid working, system changes, or even a pandemic. You may also instigate change personally through a new role, a company move, or a sabbatical, for example.
Either way, as a leader, you are required to navigate your personal transition through a change whilst also supporting those you lead with theirs.
Why Is the Response to Change and Transitioning so Personal?
For the brain, any change is a challenge. Your brain’s job is to move you through life safely and for as long as possible. This job is 24/7 and takes enormous resources to operate physically and mentally. Therefore, it creates as many habits and rituals as possible.
Due to familiarity and repetition, these habits require less conscious effort and energy. These habits have been tried, tested, and deemed ‘safe or the best way’. Any signal that this familiarity will be disrupted sends alerts of altered energy requirements. For your brain, this is a risk that needs assessment. Uncertainty is one of your brain’s biggest stressors, so change brings uncertainty.
Even when you personally instigate a change, you are causing your brain to be more alert, to predict and exert more conscious effort.
Let’s take a re-structure as an example. A company announcement has recently been shared, which says that:
“Due to the economic climate, there has been a need to focus on efficiencies. Because of this, every department is under review.”
Depending on your life experiences - including observed situations and learned behaviour - and how you have memorised them, your brain draws on these to risk assess the message above. This explains why change is personal and reactions to change differ by situation and timing.
Other aspects of your life are layered into the assessment. Needs around your job security, your lifestyle, your family’s, your commitments (financially and to others), your commute, your status in the organisation, your health, and your age are just some layers of complexity.
Resilience to change and being open to change has a lot to do with how you have experienced and assessed change in the past. The perceived threat level will be based on your unique circumstances. Your own response to a situation may even come as a surprise to you!
Look again at the ‘company message’ above. There is not much information within it. This causes you to best guess all the possible meanings and outcomes, trying to find certainty. Sometimes accurately, sometimes not.
Leadership and Change
As a leader, you are going through this same process and assessing what it means for you. Yet, you also have the responsibility of supporting your people. You may be feeling threatened, empowered, confused or all of these.
Nevertheless, your leadership role requires you to manage yourself and give the best service you can to your people. Understanding the transition process and how to support it well will enhance your confidence and reputation in challenging times.
Workshops and group learning are always useful for broadening thinking and garnering collaborative learning and strategies. Change and transition models such as those of William Bridges and Kubler-Ross are amongst many that can help you learn what to expect and plan for when supporting yourself and others through change.
Along with group work, coaching and support at an individual level are beneficial for leaders who have to make the change happen. This is why leadership coaching is seen as an investment that goes way beyond any specific change initiative.
Three Ways Leadership Coaching Supports Organisational Change
With a deeper understanding surrounding why we respond to change in the way we do, we share three ways that leadership coaching supports organisational change below.
1. Leadership coaching reveals a leader’s relationship with change and strategies for managing their emotions and responses. Coaching provides the opportunity to reflect and to increase individual resilience levels and tolerance for the challenges that change generates.
2. Leadership coaching builds empathy for others and aids leaders' interactions with their people. As we are all different, we need different types of support. This awareness and skill can be applied to many leadership situations. Leaders who role model empathy and emotional intelligence enhance their reputations and the tone for their successors to emulate.
3. Leadership coaching enhances an organisation's reputation in critically sensitive times. Leaders who are adept at dealing with the pushback and resistance that can come with change will create positive experiences, stories, and impressions for the organisation, internally and externally.
“Some changes look negative on the surface, but you will soon realise that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” ― Eckhart Tolle.
The quote above is very often true. That does not stop the transition through a change from being one where you need help and support because it can ‘feel’ horrible, uncomfortable, and scary as well as exciting. Navigating workplace change for a positive outcome needs skilled leaders.
Implementing and supporting organisational change internally can take time and effort. Often this is because there can be a need for more perspectives. Yet, as we have shared in this blog, leadership coaching supports the organisational change and those involved.
Contact us today if you’d like to know more about how we can support you and your people through a period of change and transition. Alternatively, find out more about our services, courses, and team of credible coaches here.
Written by leadership and neuroscience coach Dominique.