Have you heard? Why preparing people for change needs to change

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Stop preparing the road ahead for the person and start preparing the person for the road ahead. It's a subtle difference that once understood, transforms leadership impact, team productivity and the employee experience.

How much time, energy and management resource is your organisation investing in preparing people for change and gaining control of the future?

For example, are you investing in consultants, medium-term strategies, change management initiatives, employee engagement surveys, well-being initiatives, written policies and procedures? These are just some of the many ways organisations and leadership convince themselves that they have control over future events and the people they employ.

While these deliver results, feel impactful and (hopefully) creates a high return, it all depends on the situation remaining constant and without change. When the inevitable shift in focus occurs again, people move their attention, and the danger is that the last initiative becomes just another change on a long road of constant change. It’s then that these traditional strategies become expensive, maintenance is ongoing, and management has to work hard to avoid it fading away.

Sound familiar? Because there is another option.

How much time and focus are you spending building the beliefs, behaviours and habits that enable your people to adapt and even thrive when change hits? We call this resilience, and it’s key to giving your people the skills they need to change and be ready to flex when the road ahead requires it. It may require a shift in approach as the focus of many leaders and managers tends to be on preparing the road ahead for the person, rather than the person for the road ahead. That is the wrong way round for me!

In many organisations, the leadership message around change sounds like this.

“I’ve got a plan. Here’s the instruction manual for you to read on how to deal with change. Sit down, follow these instructions through, and you’ll get from A to B. We’ll have regular meetings to measure and monitor progress, and we’ll measure task completion, so we know when we’ve arrived. As your leader I’ll be with you, communicating the plan, smoothing the road ahead, creating the right conditions for success and helping you get over any humps in the road.”

This approach is flawed as the world doesn't operate that way anymore. Here are four reasons why.

  1. Conditions are rarely smooth, time is precious, and often every single second is accounted for in gaining control of the future. 
  2. What got you from A to B last time may not work because A has gone, B is looking like it needs to change and if you are not careful your competitors are already making their way to C and D.
  3. As a leader, you can implement external change, but you can’t make people transition psychologically. The risk is you leave people behind.
  4. People don’t have time to read the manual. Leaders don’t have time.

Isn't it time the leadership message reflected modern times?

The pace of change is happening at breakneck speed, and the bottleneck of that change is not technology, process, engagement surveys or all the other things we use to try to control the future and prepare people for change. The bottleneck is human emotion, thinking and behaviour. It’s this simple truth that as the pace and complexity of change continue to build, the leadership message needs to change with it.

That message needs to be:

“If you don’t have time and resource to read the rules if the unexpected happens or something seems unfamiliar, and if things aren’t perfect, we are resilient, we’ll be able to respond positively.”

Rather than trying to control change and manage it as a single event, the message becomes:

“We’ll be ready for constant change. As your leader, I’ll be with you, developing you so you can walk the road ahead. Together we will adapt and grow so that we can create the right conditions for success, and together we will get over any humps in the road.”

Now in today’s modern environment of constant change and unfamiliarity, that sounds like a sound strategy to me. A strategy that focuses on preparing people for change and like any other business outcome, it will require investment. Investment and leadership emphasis that delivers the skills that enable your people to understand their thinking and how the quality of that thinking drives action and results. We call this resilience and you can read more about our definition of resilience here.

Now is the time to adapt how organisations are preparing people for change.

To navigate testing times and match the speed of change of their rivals, companies need people who are ready for any route that they may head down. It is time to shift the focus of leadership from preparing the road ahead for the person, to make the person ready for the road ahead.

If you are not doing that, are you really preparing your people for change? 

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I post about my journey to mental health, resilience in young people and the psychology behind the behaviour. Let's connect!
David Ogilvie - Resilience Coach I Director I Resilience Trainer
I post regularly about leadership, mental health and organisational growth. I love connecting with people on Linkedin.​
I post regularly about resilience in education, parenting, mental health and how to build confidence. Happy to connect!
I post about my background in Special Forces, performance under pressure and team dynamics. Let's connect.​