Individual and organizational brains in constant, unexpected change
If you are like many, you were certain in April that by June we would see a settling in to the ‘new normal’. And then in May, once again, many of us were sure that by the end of June, our norms would be reset, and we could move forward with some assurances of what was to come. Sadly, that has not been the case and our world continues to shift unexpectedly day to day. This constant unexpected change is tough on our individual brains. It causes an ongoing wave after wave of starting over in our response. Each of us goes through a linear process of responding to each unexpected change including
- Shock | a sudden upsetting or surprising event or experience | “What is this?”
- Denial | looking for evidence it is not true or won’t affect me | “This can’t be true!”
- Frustration or anger | things are different, unfamiliar | “I don’t like it! Here is why it won’t work.”
- Depression or a lack of energy | we withdraw, disconnect | “I am just going to check out and wait. I don’t have to do this.”
- Accept and begin to experiment | we consider new ways, new ideas | “I am going to think about this in a positive way and consider how it can work.”
- Integrate | we work with the new parameters/situation, become more positive | “I am going to do this now (to move forward).”
The real challenge is that each unexpected change tosses us back to the beginning (shock) constantly. For some of us, it takes a few moments in a phase to move through it, and for others we can easily get stuck sometimes staying in a phase for months. Crucial to maintaining individual productivity and focus right now is to first recognize where you are in these cycles and then to change your perspective to move to the next phase. Then help others recognize where they are in the phases as well. Using questions is a great way to prompt your brain to move to the next phase. Pause periodically and ponder:
- What is the silver lining?
- What can we do now?
- What good can I/we find?
- Who might benefit from this?
- How can I/we figure this out?
- What have I learned about myself?
- How can I help others?
Pause & consider what you do know (even if it is only small, simple things). Get crystal clear on what is clear (i.e. your values, your passion, the benefit you provide to your customers, etc.). Note these things and keep them in front of you. Share with others. Update as necessary. The brain quickly fills in blanks with mostly negatives, so be intentional about how you fill the ‘voids’ in your brain and the brains of others.
It is important for us to keep in mind that change is external. It is an event, either anticipated or unanticipated, either chosen or imposed from somewhere else. Transition is internal. It is a personal reaction; how we alter our behavior and perspective t(how we shift our bubbles) to come to terms with the change. The key to influencing our own brains and the brains of others effectively is to help them get through the emotions of transition while providing the logic and data regarding the change.
For an organization, there are three complimentary areas of focus that will also help get teams and individuals focusing on creating the best possible future:
Rethinking ways of working
- Create practices to speed up and delegate decision making as much as you can in your organization
- Focus even more on execution by defining excellence with specificity and measuring it frequently
- Begin cultivating more partnerships in your current and potential value chain (being agile requires the ability to move quickly and that is often constrained by the bandwidth of internal resources)
- Develop your understanding of the specific characteristics of future customers and start exploring how can you be poised to identify and capture them
- Flatten your organizational structure as much as you possibly can
- Define clear levels of authority so everyone is clear on what they can act on (financially, human resources, contracts, etc.)
- Make remote and hybrid work work for the long haul
- Stop just talking about management and leadership development and do it
- Learn how to unlearn
- Establish new criteria for leaders and managers for the new requirements of hyper-agility
None of these things will come easy or naturally during the ongoing unexpected change. Do them anyway and the likelihood that you and your organization will thrive in the next next increases dramatically.
Now more than ever, it is critical to cut through all the noise, to behave in ways that will feel counter instinctual. Refocus and reenergize yourself and your organization to continue achieving great results.
I’m here to help!