Feeling good about change

Growth and change are inevitable in companies, so it’s prudent to acknowledge that and assess how you can adapt to ensure you’re happy in your job.

Feeling good about change by Nancy Knowlton

A number of years ago a people services team member focused on learning and development came to speak to me. I had an open door policy, which meant that anyone could come and talk to me at any time about opportunities and problems that they saw. On this occasion, the staff member told me that she had observed that many other staff were challenged in adapting to the rapid change within the company. She thought that she could do something to help them through the creation and delivery of a course. She had done this before and had some clear perspectives on what she would do. She had the support of her executive and wanted to be sure that I thought that it was worthwhile doing. It all sounded positive, so I told her that I enthusiastically supported her proposal.

What’s in a name?

A very short time later she came back with the course materials fully ready to go, but she wanted to run things past me to see if I would like to add any top-level messaging. I had been delighted by her perceptions and initiative earlier and now thought that her work product and plan for deployment were excellent. I told her so, along with the need to change one thing – the name of the course. She looked at it for a moment as did I – Change Management.

While her content was excellent, I explained that my perspective on this name was negative. I thought that many people would have a negative connotation of the word change. Who, after all, is asked to change if things are going well? Most people take pride in doing a good job, and little is gained by insinuating in any way that their prior contributions have been less than appropriate for the times.

Times change

Companies change and adapt through time – it’s a virtual inevitability. Through the lens of today, what we did yesterday may not measure up. But from the lens at the time, those contributions may have catapulted a company to a market-leading position – as they did our company. Their contributions may have started a whole new industry that pulled technology at an accelerated rate into classrooms all around the world – as they did our company.

Growth management

There was a simple fix – we changed the name to Growth Management. That single word changed the framing of the course to adapting to the growth that their good work had produced. Instead of feeling the sting of criticism for the past, people looked forward to the opportunities ahead and appreciated that some of the uncertainty they were feeling emanated from the significant growth through which we were progressing. Suddenly the focus shifted from them changing to them growing.

Growth produces change that challenges many, and I recognize that resistance to change is a normal human reaction. Some people join a start-up or small company only to find themselves in a larger company with their roles and responsibilities significantly narrowed through time. Increasingly, processes are implemented that limit some of the free-wheeling that is both empowering and energizing for many who thrive in early-stage companies.

Consider your options

For everyone, work is a matter of finding their place in the big scheme of things. For some, their place can remain within a company from start-up through to significant size. For others, it means leaving to find another entity that better fits their interests and skills. It’s important for people to understand their strengths and preferences so that they can actively find the place where they best fit, versus simply staying in a role and company through inertia.

Respecting and valuing people’s earlier contributions even as structure, operating conditions and job descriptions are evolving rapidly is the only way to go. People in an organization are always watching and noting how others are treated, and they infer their own value from those observations.

Things today should be better than they were yesterday, and tomorrow should be better than today. That’s the result of striving for continuous improvement and achieving it. Making people feel comfortable through any process involving change, for growth or otherwise, and therefore good about themselves is a must for a company and its management team.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.