A Move to Circumstantial Evidence

Anyone that knows me, knows that I love a project. My latest adventure? I’d like to move to a new house. Yes, I am tired, as we all are, by the upheaval of the last year, but capriciously I’m thinking about inviting more pandemonium into my life. After all, a change is as good as a rest, right? And I’m not the only one. The Edinburgh bible for house buyers (or nosey parkers), the ESPC, has described the present surge in the housing market activity as “unprecedented”.

At the same time, I also know that I’m probably being a bit ‘gung ho’ about all of this. Am I really in the right place to make this kind of significant change in my life? I know about change – I work in change, butting my head against that familiar wall of resistance every day. So, I think I’m a pretty resilient person. However, a lot has happened in the last year regards to work, family and health, that has shifted, modified and in some cases, significantly distorted, the starting point from which I take this new direction. In this case, I’m no different to most others right now, and like them, I can’t necessarily now predict how this new context will affect the road ahead.

Change in context

How often is individual (not organisational) context considered in change and transformation – particularly in the roll-out of new technology, structures, or ways of working? After all, an individual’s context affects their daily mental processes, including how they perceive scenarios and situations, and how they behave with others. It’s an interesting angle to consider. Organisational change, by its very nature, is collective, and the more you personalise it to take into consideration individual variance, the more expensive it becomes. So why bother?

A case would need to be made for this additional effort, demonstrating the downstream benefits, but also account for the fact that individual context has never been so important. In the practical and emotional maelstrom of the pandemic, transformation and change programmes really need to consider the stormy seas into which they drop. It’s perhaps quickly becoming a cliched observation, but the pandemic has altered what people expect from their places of work. Values, systems and policies are under the microscope. Home working environments in kitchens and bedrooms don’t necessarily facilitate the old techniques in organisation-wide implementations. Comms channels are more restricted. Leadership feels – at least physically – less accessible.

Individual levels of adaptability and openness to change has, in itself, changed. For some, there is a new current state and no burning platform to move away from a place of relative safety to an office environment that many perceive to be more risky. For others, dare I say it’s more ‘JFDI!’ – everything has been thrown up in the air so why hold onto the past?

All this suggests that, when it comes to asking people to engage with transformation and change initiatives, we should readdress the deployment of existing frameworks and go-to adoption techniques. The old ways may not sit well in this new normal when ‘it’s all going on’. Ovum’s Richard Edwards pointed out that while we all accept that the rate of change is pretty much exponential, we, the human beings in this equation, are the governing factor. If the rate of change is too great, the ‘slope’ it creates becomes too steep for us to climb.

Dealing with too much change

When you analyse and predict your implementation context at the start of the change, if you’re lucky, it may look like a smooth road ahead. Discovered a few bumps in the road? Perhaps some mandatory seasonal activities or obligations? Well, some creative thinking may allow you to leverage them as part of the roll-out. However, it’s also quite possible that you may not like what you find – it’s just ‘a bad time’. There is no point in being all ‘Pollyanna’ about this – ignoring the flashing stop sign only works for so long. Major obstacles, such as low levels of trust, high levels of concurrent change, or lack of required resources, will halt transformation in its tracks. Simply put, it isn’t going to work if the workforce doesn’t want it to, even if the protest is silent obstruction.

Taking a design-centred (or rather human-centred) approach has to be the starting point. It’s best to assemble a diverse change group. Not only to discuss and plan the transition itself - that just keeps the blinkers on – but also to discuss the contextual situation in the round.

How are people feeling? What about their other workload, their priorities and other concurrent change? Though it is one thing asking the questions, it’s quite another to have the courage to act on what you find. Delaying the start of a change may be an undesirable course of action but making space to get the foundational work done is seldom wasted time.

Individuals as change assets - not obstructors

Perhaps the biggest gift of the current pandemic, is that it provides us with the opportunity to rethink our potential for change, allowing a repositioning of ourselves and our workforce toward the future. A pretty strong bet right now is to take the time to focus on reskilling and upskilling people so that they are better equipped to adjust to change. Last year, it was clear that learning and development had been de-prioritised by employers during the pandemic**. Right now, people don't know where they are, far less where they are going – but they know that they will need new capabilities to get there. Learning is a core need for an individual’s psychological wellbeing, fuelling self-esteem, confidence, resilience, and creativity.*** An organisation’s investment in learning can only reap rewards, demonstrates solidarity and commitment, and helps adapt obstructors into change assets!

Language in context

When it comes to engagement around intra-pandemic change and transformation, we need to rethink not just our channels but our tone too. We’ve seen inside each other’s houses, spoken to their kids and dogs. We’ve been ‘all in this together’. We need to think about how this new, more intimate, interface changes our language in context. So let’s drop (at least some) of the corporate speak. Few things breed the ‘Zoom eye roll’ more than an obsession with ‘disruption’, ‘innovation’ and ‘what success looks like’. Co-creating comms with your change group really opens the eyes – some words and phrases can come across as pretty incendiary at the moment.

Situational assessment

When it comes to our individual context, most of us end up where we are for serendipitous reasons. We tend to stick with things for a long time, sometimes reacting, often retreating, rarely pausing to rethink our potential or harness our bravery. Deciding to move house has been driven by the valuable opportunity this period has given me of putting my own and my family’s context under the microscope. When I spot the right place, at the right price (a veritable unicorn in Edinburgh right now) it will no doubt give rise to an insight-driven, human-centred implementation plan, fully adaptable, appropriately communicated, with a lot of space for new (DIY-driven) capabilities. So, focusing on the ESPC is definitely for me (especially if it means Every Single Person Counts!)

*ESPC.com Coronavirus COVID-19 and the impact on the Scottish property market: what we know so far

**What lessons can COVID-19 teach us about organisational change? Rebecca Peters

*** https://www.psychologies.co.uk/want-be-happier-learn-something-new

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Julie Arbuthnott

Principal Consultant and Service Design Specialist

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