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Betsy Travis



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How to make change easier and smoother


It is getting harder to change. We are surrounded by a heady concoction of accelerating technological change, unremitting global socio-political unrest, and persistent economic frailty. However you want to characterise the times we live in, social, economic and commercial stability is not a part of it. And against this backdrop, it is hard to find an organization that is not engaged in a change or transformation process of some sort.

Change is not just about changing anymore; it is about adapting and learning new skills whilst also trying to cope with all the background flux. It is as if we are trying to change our clothes whilst standing on a moving, wobbly platform. Maintaining our balance and just holding on have become essential skills.

To help change happen, organisations have historically taught change management skills to select leaders, project and HR staff. How to create frameworks and processes, as if laying down tracks for people to follow. But what they have not done so much is equip people with the personal skills they need to follow the tracks and maintain their balance amidst all the change.

Much of the research on this capacity for change has in recent years come together under the banner of ‘resilience’. It is the ability to not just perform in times of change and challenge, but to thrive in them. It is not just for times of change, either. We recently studied 400 leaders and found that employees with higher levels of resilience demonstrate greater levels of engagement, job satisfaction, and organisational commitment.

And interestingly, whilst resilience is often thought of as a fixed ability – something that we either have or not – the research shows that it is something that we can all grow and develop.

What to avoid

Realising this, many firms have begun to develop programmes to boost the resilience of their workforce. In their rush to do so, however, many of them tend to make one or more of three common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Focusing on wellbeing

In a recent survey of over 100 HR leaders, we discovered that the majority of their organisations provided wellbeing programmes, such as exercise classes, nutrition advice, and education on mental health issues. Almost half the group had tried introducing mindfulness programs.

These are all important and necessary for resilience in terms of managing our physical and mental energy, but they are not enough. Leaders and their people also need thinking, learning and social strategies to deal with increased performance pressures and change.

Mistake #2: Reaching for a quick, one-off fix

Wanting a quick solution, firms can be tempted to bring in one-off interventions. Yet these rarely have the sought after impact. If you want a sustained effect, you need a sustained programme.

Mistake #3: Relying on education.

Interventions that are purely educational are not enough to create change. Instead, to work, education needs to be accompanied by supporting processes – techniques and tools – that people can use to help them change.

How to do it

How then can firms surmount these challenges and provide broad programmes, that do you not just focus on wellbeing, are not just one-off interventions, and do not rely just on education?

For an answer, we need to look to the psychology of change, and follow three simple steps.

Step 1: Diagnose current resilience

The first thing people need to be aware of is what their current resilience is like – where their resilience is strong, and where less so. Rather than being a single thing, Resilience is made up of a mix of skills, like confidence, persistence, adaptability, finding support, and recovering.

And knowing which of these components they have strengths or weaknesses in enables people to know what they need to do to improve their resilience. There are a number of cost-effective tools on the market to help firms and individuals diagnose this, too.

Step 2: Knowing what to do

The second step is where the education comes in – suggesting tools, tips and techniques people can try to improve their resilience.

Step 3: Building resilience habits

Habits are things that we do regularly, automatically and unconsciously. As such, they are a kind of holy grail of behavior change, because once you have created them, they tend to last.

Research shows that just giving people information on how to build habits can significantly improve the changes that they will change their behavior. But there are plenty of other things firms can do, too, from one-on-one work with a coach to discussing in teams or with peers what to do, and -importantly – tracking progress with their manager.

There is no doubt about it: change is not getting any easier. These days, it is simply not enough to launch a change programme. If you want it to succeed, you first have to lay the groundwork and build a secure platform. And that means developing individuals’ capacity to change – their resilience.

The good news is, it can be done, and cost-effectively. Which means there is no excuse not to, really.

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Betsy Travis


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