This article was written for CareforKids.com.au by Adrian Pattra, a management consultant with a Master of Education (Ed. Psychology) and Education Director at Farran Street Education.
This year services have seen change and disruption on an unimaginable scale. Like grass growing, change traditionally takes place in a slow and unassuming fashion. This gradual change gives you time to adapt and evolve, but this year has been different. This year change and disruption has happened so quickly that it has caught many people off guard.
It's disruption on a level that we've never seen before and it’s unsettling for a lot of leaders and their teams. These unprecedented times require a new style of leadership. We require a new way of looking at things, a new way to support our team through this rapid and uncertain time.
During periods of change and disruption emotions become amplified fear, grief, sadness, numbness, anger and loneliness are all common emotions. Our teams are a melting pot of emotions and as a leader it becomes very difficult to manage.
While strong reactions to change might seem inevitable, we can help soften the blow by understanding what support Educators need to process the change in a meaningful way. We can use four change lenses to help us understand what people need to adapt to change in a meaningful and productive way.
For some educators logic and structure is the key to helping them successfully adopt and navigate change. For them disruption represents a loss of direction, clarity and stability. Change appears as confusion and chaos for people who crave logic and structure. As a result, educators can demonstrate emotions of fear, loss and sadness.
We can support them through change by creating new systems, policies and processes to support the change. When managers moved to implement “kiss and drop” during the height of COVID-19, many were faced with perceived opposition and resistance from staff. However, implementing the change from a logical lens, it was clear the change had been made without a ‘kiss and drop’ policy or clear procedure.
Novice managers may see this resistance as a barrier to change, however viewing this opposition from a logical lens we can see gaps in the change management. With these things in place resistance evaporated and people who see change logically were able to adopt the change.
Logical and structural people crave a sense of normality and routine. They really struggle with ad hoc procedures. Daily briefings during the change period (even if you have nothing to report) can help them feel a sense of certainly and normality.
Educators who see change through a people lens can become anxious at the uncertainty that disruption brings. Often the anxiety can stem from perceived incompetence in the new environment. As a result, they often look for constant reinforcement and support. These behaviours can sometimes be misinterpreted as being needy or requiring constant reassurance.
To support these people though change we can help build their perceived competence in the new environment. Learning and development, coaching and training to support their skills in the new environment can support their sense of competence and help them adopt the change more readily.
As leaders begin to think strategically about future change and disruption, they can plan to mitigate the effect of perceived incompetence by upskilling their staff to meet future challenges. Remote learning is a pertinent example. Leaders who provide training on digital instructional design, online learning platforms etc are going to have staff who embrace change rather than resent it.
For some people change is characterised by a loss of meaning or a loss of purpose. When symbolic people are faced with rapid change, they may feel helpless or hopeless and want to cling to the past. Leaders can support their team by providing a clear vision and short-term goals.
Disruption leads to uncertainty about the future and many leaders can sometimes find it difficult to set goals in an uncertain environments. However, using micro goals which can be achieved in a day or two days is a good way of providing vision and purpose.
Using symbolic rituals will also help symbolic people adopt the change. I was working with the Salvation Army many years ago and they had just moved to a new building, so this was their last day in an old building. I was running a workshop for them, and before I began, they gave thanks to the building, Thank you for housing us for the past 25 years. Thank you for hearing all our stories. Thank you for providing our shelter. I thought that was so amazing that they recognised the symbolism of the occasion. It was an excellent way of supporting people who see change through a symbolic lens.
People who look through a political lens, see change in terms of power, winners and losers. Leaders can get them to buy-in to the change or collaborate with them to help these educators adopt the change.
To support educators who see change through a political lens, we need to show that you are looking out for them, that you are working for them, that you are on their side, and you are doing everything you can to bring them through.
As we move forward, services will need to continue to change and evolve. The looming recession, the COVID recovery and the transition to more permanent working from home arrangements are all inevitable changes in the near future. Seeing these changes from all four lenses will ensure you can successfully navigate your team through the new environment.
About the Author: Adrian Pattra is a management consultant with a Master of Education (Ed.
Psychology). He is currently Education Director of Farran Street Education.