“Back in the 70s and 80s things never changed as much, it was like the world stayed the same for longer, you know!”

These are the words of a man sixty three years old in corporate South Africa. We were discussing the constant change in his work environment, after the company he worked for was taken over by a competitor.

If we are honest with ourselves, it is clear that change is here to stay. As a new generation CA(SA) you have to realise that your ability to cope with and adapt to change will be one of your core keys to success. I love the words of Eric Hofner: “In times of change the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists”. Hofner reminds us that change waits for no one and that new generation CAs(SA) will have to equip him/herself with the tools to manage an environment where change will only accelerate incrementaly.

In 2005, I joined my wife, who was invited to speak at an education conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. After her presentation on how to assist visually impaired students in tertiary education, I had a conversation with a professor from a university in the state of Utah. She told me of valuable research performed on change by a cardiologist, Dr Edward Miller, published by the business magazine, Fast Company. The article was entitled “Change or die”.

Dr Miller, who works at the John Hopkins University, took 100 patients that had received bypass surgery, and gave them reading material on how to live more healthy lives. He showed them their bad habits that they needed to change to prevent them from falling again into this trap of heart disease. He gave them a stern warning that, if they did not change, they would probably die within four years. Now, one would think that if you receive a message such as this, you would change without a fuss – because your life depended on it. It is like someone putting a gun to your head and threatening you with the words “change or die”. Would you change? If you knew your life was dependent on it, would you change?

Well Dr Miller kept monitoring his 100 patients through the four years. Guess how many of them were still alive after four years? After the warning that change is the only thing that could save their lives, only nine of the 100 patients survived. Ninety-one patients were so stuck in their habits that it cost them their lives. Even though they had been educated on how to change, and even though they knew they must change, the sad fact is that they could not change.

Now Dr Dean Ornish from the University of California, read the work of Dr Edward Miller and he took 100 patients with heart disease and monitored them over four years. His results from his experiment were drastically different. After four years Dr Dean had seventy seven of his hundred patients still alive and kicking. How did Dr Dean improve on the results of Dr Edward?

There were three fundamental differences in Dr Dean’s approach to change. First, he did not threaten his patients with death, but helped them focus on reasons why they wanted to stay alive. Avoiding death, however, was not a sufficient motivation. We should never underestimate the power of a future picture that is positive. Without vision, people perish. Second, Dr Dean helped his patients to change immediately. He did not allow months to pass, but within the first 30 days he changed their eating, sleeping and exercising habits drastically. Third, his patients were divided into support groups. The Alcoholics Anonymous has long ago taught us the lesson that we cannot change by ourselves. We need support to change.

What can the new generation CA(SA) learn from this research? First, if I want to change I need to understand the purpose for change and see the picture of the future that promises a better quality of life. The same goes for introducing change in a business. People who are expected to change, want to understand why change is taking place. I have found that people are definitely less reluctant to change if they understand how it will benefit the business and themselves. Second, if you need to change, do so immediately and drastically. Stop pondering about the change and just get on with it. This principle is very controversial and cannot always be applied, but it is definitely the most effective way to change. Even in businesses, change should be implemented fast and concisely. People struggle to let go of their old habits if they are slowly introduced to new habits. Third, if you want to change as an individual, get accountability and support. We all need help to change. In a business, a proper change management process will provide the best results. A good idea would be to have discussion groups about the change. Some businesses have change workshops for their employees, while some provide coaching to support them through the change.

As a new generation CA(SA) you are confronted with an environment constantly changing. You will need to change and, as a manager and leader, you will need to introduce and implement change. Learning how to cope with change will be the key to your success.

Hermann du Plessis is part of Therapeia, a Seta accredited consulting, training and coaching business, focussing on the human capital growth of corporate companies and individuals.