A Thought Leadership Issue

Nothing much seems to have altered since Heraclitus was alive in sixth century AD and made many comments in respect of change, including the one that is the title of this article. Because, right now, change is the only given that anyone living in South Africa can expect on a daily basis.

The most frustrating thing about the changes we are subjected to is that they are, for the most part, entirely outside of our control. Which means that most of us are under extreme stress and are paying a price, either mentally, physically or emotionally.

As we are all being bombarded with change, it is important for us to recognise how we are reacting and what personal damage is being done by the impact of change upon us. And then, of course, to provide interventions that take away the disempowerment and frustration of so much change.

The impact of change is experienced at an intellectual or mental level, at an emotional level and at a physical level:

The Mental Challenges of Change

Our minds are wonderful instruments, finely tuned machines that we have come to rely on over the years. If you are a chartered accountant, you are used to being able to sit down and think your way through problems.

In fact, if you are a chartered accountant, professionally it is expected of you to think your way through problems – that is what you are paid to do, either by clients or employers.

But, how often do you find yourself waking during the night – at either 2, 3 or 4am – or all three – with a list of things you haven’t done and problems you haven’t solved, weighing you down like a sumo wrestler?

The unfortunate truth of your brain, no matter how high its quality, is that it is only able to deal with between three and nine chunks of new information at any one time. That means no matter how well honed and tuned your brain is, right now, it is under attack.

Consider the impact of globalisation, daily boundary-pushing inventions and scientific discoveries that make science fiction a daily reality of our lives.

Of itself, the South African environment is presenting each of us with the challenge of change on a daily basis. Add in the constantly changing organisational strategies, structures and systems of the working world, with the ever increasing expectations that are loaded on us all at work, together with the miscellany of incidental changes like interest rate increases, new legal requirements, uncertainty on implementation of new legal requirements and we find ourselves like experimental laboratory animals with a new maze challenging us each and every day.

Change is outpacing our ability to keep pace with it, to think our way through it and is creating too much uncertainty for the mind to cope with, and it is extorting a high price from our emotions and our physical bodies.

The Emotional Challenge of Change

What do I mean? Chartered accountants by reputation are not supposed to have emotions! Tell that to the CEO of a large corporation with whom I was coaching the other day. A chartered accountant by profession, recently appointed to his position, he was beleaguered, embattled and highly stressed. Because of the dishonesty and hostility in the organisation, he feels uncomfortable and he found little support from his team of directors, and he admitted to me there was only one person in the higher levels of the organisation that he trusted.

He had made it to the position of his dreams and was finding life a nightmare.

How many of you are finding that your temperament has changed?

How many have family, friends, staff or work colleagues who are treading delicately around your sensibilities?

How many of you, if you were honest, can look back over the past few weeks and see times when you have jumped down someone’s throat because they interrupted you? When you were told you were shouting? Or were just asked if you were okay because you looked furious, upset or angry about something?

How many of you can’t find the same satisfaction in doing your job, wish you could escape and do something different?

Have you asked yourself recently if it was worth all the effort you put in to become a chartered accountant in the face of what is happening in your business world?

If you have answered yes to more than one of the questions I have asked, then emotionally you are paying a price for the change that you are experiencing. And the price is either in anger – negative emotion delivered externally, or depression – negative emotion turned towards yourself.

The Physical Challenge of Change

If the mind and emotions are in turmoil because of change, then it is almost a given that the physical body will also be experiencing the negative effects of change.

What do I mean?

Take a look through most women’s magazines and you will find articles on stress and how to deal with it. Flip through Men’s Health, Best Life etc. the new wave of metro sexual magazines – and they are equally aware of the impact of stress on the physical body.

Headaches, high blood pressure, IBS*, heart attack, adult onset diabetes, stroke, obesity, poor concentration, lack of ability to focus, insomnia, excessive or abnormal sleep requirement are all symptoms of an overloaded mind and out of control emotions.

Where one drink used to relax you when you came home at night, it now takes two or three, where 20 cigarettes a day were smoked, now 30 or 40 are required.

The Challenge of Change

Why is it that human beings generally dislike the concept of change?

Most research talks about the fact that for change to be accepted there needs to be a personal belief that “I will be okay”. If this belief is present then change will be accepted, embraced and enjoyed.

With a negative perception and an underlying belief of “I am not going to be okay”, the response to change is to reject, fight, challenge, sabotage and, often, to move away.

So how do we manage change? Personally and professionally?

Much of the literature on change tends towards manipulation of the subjects of change to create either a grudging or willing acceptance of the new order. While you can fool some of the people all of the time, or is it all of the people some of the time…this scenario does pose problems when dealing with a highly intelligent audience, trained in “professional skepticism”.

The best way to understand how to manage change and your response to it, is to review how the best generative change agents work, with an audience or one-on-one in a coaching scenario.

The first task of the generative change agent in dealing with change stress is to alert the individual or the target audience to the fact that they are experiencing change stress by highlighting the symptoms described above.

The second task of the generative change agent is to convince the individual or target audience that he/she understands their world and their perspective. This is usually best accomplished by a technique called “Active or Reflective Listening”.

The subjects of change are encouraged to share what they are currently experiencing:

  • Practically: Too much information, too many changes,
    too much ambiguity
  • Emotionally: Frustration, anger, rage, depression, despondency, paralysis, helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness
  • Physically: Sleeplessness, headaches, anxiety, high blood pressure, poor memory, poor focus and concentration, low energy, tiredness, abnormal and/or excessive need of sleep

The generative change agent merely reflects what is heard – what I hear you say is… and repeats what has been said to him/her. “Yes but…” or “You have to understand…?” and any other counter argument is forbidden.

This provides the subjects of change with a sense of being heard.

The third task is to remind the target audience of whom they are, what skills and capabilities they have, and to reinforce their sense of identity and purpose.

The fourth task of the generative change agent is to co-create a vision through the change that is invigorating, empowering and magnetic for the individual or group. This vision has to be built by the subject(s) of the change because it has to meet their deepest needs and desires, and so must be fine-tuned and honed by their inner needs.

The fifth and final task of the generative change agent is to ensure that a path is crafted from the present to a future point comfort beyond the change (the vision). This may involve interventions that include training, coaching, communication, workshops and further fine-tuning of the vision to ensure it continues to be appropriate and satisfying for the individual.

Given that change is a constant in an inconstant world, it is absolutely essential that change agents impart knowledge and skills to their clients so that a personal resource and skill base is built.

*Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Chris Kennedy a generative change agent, strategic business and life coach, transformation consultant and facilitator with seventeen years experience. She has facilitated change in many leading organisations, including KPMG where she assisted with the merger between KMMT and KPMG. Currently she is working with SABC3 on her project Phenomenal Women designed to provide Tools for Successful Women. She consults to SAICA through Enigma HR Consulting.