Dealing With Change July 24, 2011

Dealing with Change Issue 60

All of us have a tough time dealing with change; transitioning from the old ways of being to new behaviours and attitudes typically elicits seven distinct emotional responses from an individual: denial, resistance, confusion, release, envisioning, enactment and finally commitment. Organisations are similar, except they generally only go through three stages of experience when change is introduced: Ending – which produces feelings of anxiety, fear and loss; The Gap – when we feel paralysed to let go or begin anew; finally the New Beginning – where we begin to enact the first steps toward a new way of being.

Managing the emotions and behaviours that result in each stage of a change process is a significant challenge for individuals and businesses, but you would know this first hand if you’re in the Sydney studio. There are so many changes! One is the eminent transition from the task chairs purchased in many years ago to a new model to be selected upon completion of an involved evaluation process orchestrated by one of our designers Pablo. 4 chairs, 40 people, 6 questions, at least 120 personalities on any given day; it is not a job for the faint of heart.

One reason getting new chairs confronts us is that it comes on the heels of another change to our environment, new toilets. The new toilets are an improvement, never the less, improvement or not, it is a change and demonstrates how a good communication plan can help. Sure they told us about the new toilets, but did they mention the new vanity lighting would highlight every grey hair on your head and remind us of the inevitable aging process we prefer to ignore? Did they tell us they were switching to bidets? Okay I know they’re just normal toilets with an over zealous flushing function, still communicating the need to jump back when you flush would have been helpful.

We should take some comfort in knowing we are not alone, all humans have a degree of difficulty adapting to new things, even if they are for the better. But adapt we must, because by all indications we are in for a long string of changes, particularly in how we work. For example, those of you who always shut off Facebook when someone over 30 walks by can rejoice, it is no longer taboo to be on Facebook at work. In fact the average Australian spends 30 to 60 minutes of their work day on line, checking the news, weather and travel websites; sports and on line shopping are growing too and tools like Facebook are now considered a normal part of office life.

You know social media has hit the main stream when those pillars of progressiveness, the law firms, are on to it. Only a few short years ago we were laughed at by clients when we suggested social media as an upcoming and effective means of communication and community building. How times have changed. Many organisations now have their own Facebook page, generally used for recruiting. In fact one of the larger legal practices in Australia is working with Steve Jobs to develop an application aimed at new recruits. Some companies like Accenture source 80% of their new hires through LinkedIn and that’s nothing to laugh about, it has saved them more than a million dollars in recruitment fees over a two year period. Not chump change.

Businesses entrust their employees with sensitive information every day and demand a high level of professional responsibility; therefore to believe the employee can demonstrate responsible use of social media at work should not be a stretch. It is also virtually impossible to control the use of tablets, laptops and smart phones in the work place. The leash employers have on employees is gradually being let out: Activity based working, flexible working hours, Facebook and Twitter in the office all point away from the command and control model adopted in the past. Today many organisations believe that if people are engaged in the work they do, they will not spend their time on unproductive activities.

The infusion of social media into our work life is not the only change we must wrap our heads around. Although to be honest, many of the other changes that other are experiencing in the workplace are already the status quo for Geyer employees. Losing ones office appears to be the change that elicits the most emotional upheaval for some, but to us it appears to be an over reaction since we have never had, nor wanted an enclosed office to work in. Nevertheless, this single change is the one that really knocks some people for a loop.

Another big change is the lack of space to store useless junk and files, this too creates great angst for people. Most of us can understand why, of course you wouldn’t want to detach yourself from useful information you have been stowing away like a chipmunk for decades. This change hits emotional buttons and is much more about distrust of electronic media, or our ability to properly use it. In some cases it is a crutch for generally sloppy work practice and for other they just like to touch and sniff paper. The point is, these changes are often about more than what they seem.

Workplaces today are definitely less hierarchal and contain new types of spaces that are both more relaxed and casual. To take full advantage of the benefits these environments might yield, leadership must embrace the evolved work attitudes of their employees. In some instances this may lead to the development of new management techniques that favour goal setting and clear deadlines. Managing by walking around no longer fits with the way many people work and insistence on performing tasks in a particular place may block creative outcomes.

Today you don’t hear a lot of yes sir, and no sir in the work environment with the exception of hotel concierges, most will address you by your first name. People wear what they want to work, they show up and leave when it suits and for many organisations as long as the work gets done they care little whether an employee chooses to listen to music, eat, drink and in some cases take a little kip if it helps them do their job better.

Employees are encouraged to render an opinion, regardless of their position or rank in the company. It is through a blending of attitudes, experiences and unusual encounters that we provoke innovative thought. Since innovation, creativity and knowledge are the currency of our times, we have greater respect for someone because of what they know, think and how they behave, than their job title. For instance, someone like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief arrested in New York this May for sexually assaulting a hotel maid, would have more than likely been able to buy or talk his way out of charges in the past. Of course he did talk his way into a cushy house arrest in a luxury Manhattan apartment that many of us would consider a holiday. I know the case has taken a turn, still he lost his job and the fact that anyone gave the hotel maid airtime suggests a title no longer ensures a person is right, or good.

As we respond to global issues, Geyer will continue to create new work environments that will contain new technologies and suggest new ways of using space. We will find ourselves playing a significant role in helping our clients develop work place etiquette and protocols that make those environments successful. Often overcoming the fear of change is as simple as communicating the four P’s: the Purpose of the change, the Picture of what it will look like, the Part you want people to play, and the Plan of when things are going to happen.

It is a pity more companies don’t communicate these basics, it’s really quite simple; for example, if we were to apply the four P’s to the Labour government’s carbon scheme it might look like this:
Purpose – To reduce Australia’s emissions by 5% of the 2000 levels = 160 million tonnes by 2020
Picture – Ice sheets don’t melt, ocean maintains the right acid level, summers not so hot, bananas don’t cost $13 a kilo, fewer floods, fires and drought – overall it is pretty good as long as your job is not in the cement or aluminium industries. Plan – Big emitters pay a $23 a tonne tax for carbon emissions, increasing to $100 a tonne over time. Big emitters pass those costs to us, an estimated 0.7 percent to consumer prices. Hey wait that’s not fair! Correct, it’s not and that’s why there is $8 billion dollars worth of tax cuts planned. Part – It depends who you are. 4 million households will be over compensated due to the tax cuts planned so they can go blow that money, 2 million will not be any worse off and three million will go backward. It all gets a bit confusing, perhaps it is easiest to focus on Julia’s summation “There’s no money tree, there’s no endeavour here to try and pretend that everybody’s better off”.

Making changes is not easy, and developing a plan that works for everyone is complicated. Maybe they should call in Pablo.


IDEO, Your Company Needs Gen Y Values (Really!); Fast Company – Pattern series 2010

Smith, Fiona; Social Media is no Workplace Time Waster; The Australian Financial Review, June 7, 2011

Smith, Fiona; Miss Manners Moves Out; The Australian Financial Review, June 7, 2011

Taylor, Lenore; A Clean Start; The Sydney Morning Herald; July 11, 2011

Whitbourn Michaela, Parkinson Emily; Facebook’s firm friends; The Australian Financial Review, June 7, 2011


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