- Change is a normal part of life. Those who are flexible, adaptable and proactive will cope best
- Leaders in industries that are changing due to technological disruption need to accept challenges and make adjustments
- Good strategy is proactive and adaptable
The Industry Reference Committee (IRC) 2018/19 Skills Forecast and Proposed Schedules of Work report ranks adaptability, agility and flexibility in changing conditions as the highest priority across all industries1.
Business transformation expert, psychologist and author of 'BrainWise Leadership: Practical neuroscience to survive and thrive at work', Dr Connie Henson advocates for leaders' to learn how to adapt to change and embrace challenges.
We speak to Dr Henson to find out what leaders need to do to shift mindsets to benefit their team and business.
Understanding the normality of change
Dr Henson believes that understanding how the brain responds to change is critical to thriving at work; especially as digital technology continues to transform the way we work.
According to Dr Henson, if you don't make an effort to learn new skills, you will not have the capacity to deal with the unexpected.
"Change and challenges are the new normal. Those that are flexible, adaptable and proactive are the people that are going to cope best," she says.
Dr Henson says the word "change" is most often contextualised as a threat. Rather than simply assuming that all change is a difficulty, she encourages organisations and individuals to become aware of their environment, and understand that change does not always have an immediate - if any - negative impact on their life or career.
"When you feel unsettled, that is just your brain letting you know that something important is happening and you need to pay attention. Our brain is programmed to detect any changes and interpret them as potential threats. That is why a lot of the time we react, rather than respond thoughtfully."
"When something shifts in our environment, rather than just reacting, it is important to pause, take stock of your situation and adapt your behavior to suit the new circumstance," Dr Henson explains.
Dr Henson recommends thinking about change as a critical element for growth, as it can help us adapt to overcome challenges in a personal and professional context.
"Change and challenges are the new normal. Those that are flexible, adaptable and proactive are the people that are going to cope best.”
Changing the way we think about strategy
Dr Henson has used her passion for business and transformation and learning to help multinational and professional service consultancies align their business requirements to their employee needs, while also engaging with employees to help create a supportive environment.
By recognising the diversity of the workforce, Dr Henson encourages accounting and finance leaders to understand that no matter how well a conceived strategy is, it only comes to fruition when organisations support individuals to adapt to new situations effectively, by developing their skills and capabilities.
"Our brain functions best with a balance of safety and stimulation, and one of the best places to do that is to work with others in a psychologically safe environment," Dr Henson says.
"It's important for leaders in industries that are experiencing technological disruption - and are subsequently changing - to accept challenges and make adjustments."
Dr Henson says business leaders must encourage their employees to shift their mindset from perceiving change as negative, to something that can have both negative and positive outcomes and consequences. Through the realisation that we all make mistakes, and are experimenting together, a good strategy takes into account the unexpected.
"A good strategy is proactive and adaptable. We have to employ strategies that assume that some things might change, and we'll have to adapt when the time comes. Change is learning, and learning is change," she says.
How to shift mindsets in the face of change
Dr Henson says some organisations do not understand how to support their employees through leading and implementing change effectively.
Research from McKinsey and Company revealed that 70% of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and management support.2
Although mastering the art of responding to change quickly can help organisations gain a competitive advantage, Dr Henson highlights the equal importance of reflection and good communication in an organisation's strategy.
"Rather than getting caught up in managing the tasks that you feel are the most urgent, focus on how you are able to unite people with your shared vision. Communicate what you are working towards, and collaborate on complex issues with your team to best prepare for the unexpected," she says.
"A key element in any leadership model is to seek feedback. Take the time to focus on the things that were good and made a difference, and become aware of the things that didn't work. Engage with the wider team, and understand what works for them and what they want to achieve. Create an environment where your team is supported, and feel like they can contribute to the bigger picture."
Dr Henson encourages leaders to understand that self-awareness is an important factor in facing change with confidence. By acknowledging one's emotions and the emotions of others, leaders are able to help their employees respond to and overcome change more effectively when it presents itself.
"Change feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar, but the best way to respond is by understanding that this reaction is normal. Rather than fighting or running away from change, listen to your brain, and think about what skills you can apply to this situation, and adapt to new challenges when they come up," Dr Henson says.
"Become aware of what you're feeling and when you feel it. Become aware of your strengths, and become aware of others. Recognise that somebody else might have a different perspective that could help you consider how to approach the challenges you are facing."