Managing change

Louise Rushworth, Cambridge Network’s Events manager, offers her thoughts on a webinar presented by Paul Sanderson and Liz Smith...

clouds in the sky, spelling out the word change

After 30 years in an office, I’m now in the dining room.

It’s quite a dramatic change, and it’s prompted me to think a lot about how our circumstances affect our thinking.  How do people cope with change, especially when change is imposed upon them, like the current lockdown situation?

I gained some insight last week when I sat in on a Cambridge Network webinar out of personal interest.  Under the title of Managing change, the session (hosted by my colleagues in our learning team) featured two of our Learning Collaboration trainers, Paul Sanderson (Sanderson Consultants) and Liz Smith.

They were exploring some of the phases of change and the emotions, actions, communications and planning that are consequences of that. While the seminar was aimed at managers, there was a lot of useful information for an individual too, to try to make sense of what is happening and regain a little control. It’s a huge, complicated subject and this is just a simplified snippet that I hope encourages you to find out more.

They started by examining two types of change:

  • imposed change – change that is out of your control, it’s done to you rather than with you.
  • Intentional change – where you’re in control and can drive it.

Liz highlighted some of the external factors which can change, such as your immediate environment which will be pertinent right now. I suspect most our audience is, like me, working from home.

Another is your identity, much of which perhaps comes from work; how you dress, how you portray yourself or interact with colleagues. All that has changed. And it has changed for all of us separately and in a myriad of different ways. It’s impossible to see how change affects us all individually, for how long or how far-reaching the consequences. Supporting mental health becomes increasingly important.

Paul shared a slide on the transitions through change, taken from William Bridges’ book ‘Managing Transition’. It showed three stages, starting with the ending of the ‘old ways’, highlighting the speed at which people leave old habits behind. Some will transition quickly or need to (senior managers), whereas others find it very hard and indeed may never make that move. It is up to managers to decide how to deal with them if the change is imperative.

The next stage, the neutral zone, is between two ‘somewheres’. It’s a time to encourage innovation and seek opportunities to collaborate, to try new things – a test bed for the new plan.

I guess that time is now, although there may well be some ‘endings’ still to be done. It feels as if our company is readjusting to our new virtual life and planning what we may keep, ditch or develop in the new world.

Finally, there will be an era of new beginnings and your ‘neutral zone plans’ get put into practice. This is the time to visualise the new future and to take people with you. I’ve made it sound simplistic, I know the real world is not like this and indeed the external world is changing constantly and in ways we’ve not seen before. But I liked this model to explain possible phases.

At all stages internal communications are vital to explain the purpose of your new plan, to enable employees to picture it, to explain the plan stages – including training, support, key events that will take place – and to highlight the parts your employees will play in it.

You may have had to shed employees before now, but it’s important to look after the ‘survivors'.  Paul shared an excellent analogy about communicating change: try to combine it clearly in one clear plan of action (imagine throwing one football, stay with me!) rather than chucking out a handful of fragmented messages (imagine a handful of dried peas coming your way – which to catch?).

This session gave me much food for thought on a personal and a work level. I like to be able to rationalise emotions, but I also really like to plan.

This is just my take on a tiny part of a full and informative webinar. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or need some inspiration about next steps to manage your employees, it’s well worth seeking out their next Learning Collaboration course or arranging an in-house session, available online.

My colleagues Sarah and Sara can help you: