Resilience—navigating major change

Catapult’s coaches have recently completed a series of change resilience workshops for a large organisation going through major restructuring.  Catapult coach, Liz Riversdale, shares some of the approaches they have been using to help staff navigate the change.

Q. You’ve done over a dozen workshops, what’s the biggest issue for people?

The biggest issues are about “how do I cope with the uncertainty,” and frustration from a lack of control over the process and outcome.

Q. How do you address this? How do you help?

What we try and do is have people look at what they can influence and control and a key part of this is about taking charge of how they think about what is happening.

Q. So it’s about helping people reframe their thinking more positively?

Yes, but it’s not about saying “it’s all fine and rosy”.  It’s about saying “okay – this is happening, how do I think in a way that will help me cope with the situation?”.

It’s also not about getting rid of negative thoughts but making sure you include positive thoughts as well.  Negative thoughts drain the battery so you need three positive thoughts or experiences to balance one negative. During workshops we have people go and do something that makes them feel good for ten minutes – go lie under a tree, think about your kids, think about what you can be grateful for…there’s always a bit of grumbling but people come back and say “that was good!”.  We encourage people to make this a practice as they go through the transitions.

Q. You call it a transition, not a change?

The change is what’s happening. Transitions are the psychological stages people go through as they adjust to the change. The first transition is the loss, there’s a natural focus on what’s going to be lost. The second transition is the neutral zone, you begin to let go of the old but are not yet attached to the new. This is where it’s important to focus on what you can control such as your thoughts, thinking about the future you want, looking for a new job, how you relate to work mates.

The third phase is about new beginnings where you are ready to put energy into something new – where there is hope and enthusiasm.  By making people aware of these transitions it helps normalise their experience and normalising helps reduce people’s stress.

Q. People talk about change being stressful, how do you help with stress?

One of the things we do is invite people to reconsider how they may traditionally relate to stress.  There’s a lot of new research that suggests stress is about perception.  If we perceive something as stressful, it will be.  For example, if you get wound up before an event – be it sporting, social or work – and you relate to this nervousness as bad or wrong, this causes you to be stressed.  When we are stressed the brain doesn’t function so well and our ability to think and respond constructively reduces.  The stress is in control of us.

Another way of perceiving this nervousness is that it is the body and mind preparing itself to do something new or out of the ordinary.  “Okay, this is good – this is my body and mind sharpening up before I do this new thing. Thank you!”  You remain in control and are in effect working in partnership with your physiological reaction to what is happening.

Q. You’ve run these workshops, but what can leaders do to help people navigate major change?

As well as workshops for staff, we ran specific workshops for leaders to help them manage both their staff and themselves through the change.  In terms of helping their team, the critical thing managers need to do is talk to people all through the change. Start this talk as early as you can. People often feel alone during change even though lots of others are going through it.  Let people know they are not alone and that others are going through similar experiences.

Talk about the three transitions to help people locate and normalise what they are experiencing.  Listen to people through the loss and then create hooks into new beginnings.  Give people space and an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings as they transition through change.

As a leader you need to be a shock absorber for your team as they go through change and this can be demanding and exhausting.  Make sure there is someone outside your team you can talk to about what’s going on for you, such as a peer, boss or coach.