Personal transition podcast

These three podcasts examine how to deal with change in a positive way.

From anticipating change to dealing with it as it happens, and maximising what you have learnt from your experience, there is plenty of guidance and advice, plus techniques to help address future transition.

Personal transition: Anticipating change

This podcast sets the context to enable an individual to think positively about change, and offers a range of techniques to address future change. This podcast focuses on spotting the early signs of change, and outlines some techniques you can employ now and for the future.

Personal transition: Navigating change

This podcast outlines how you can deal more effectively with change as it is happening.

Personal transition: Learning from change

This podcast explores how you can adapt more quickly to change once it has happened, and how you can make the most of what you have learnt, to be better equipped to deal with change in the future. It also refers to a useful source document, “Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career” by Professor Herminia Ibarra.

Welcome to this podcast on change management from Prospect. The podcast is in three parts. This first part is about anticipating change in the future.

Prospect provides a lot of support to its members undergoing change in the workplace. In our CareerPlus workshops we have helped a number of people who are facing externally imposed change, such as restructuring or redundancy. 

I also work a lot with people who are seeking to initiate change in their own careers. This could be a change of role or a career progression.

Some people seem to find it hard to predict change and to anticipate how change will affect them, whereas others appear to be better at seeing it coming and are, therefore, better prepared for it. So, what enables some people to anticipate change? And is it something you can learn to do better?

In this part of the podcast, I will look at what makes it hard to spot the early signs of change and will discuss a few techniques that can help you to become better at anticipating change and estimating the impact of change in your life.

One clue about why it can be so hard to spot the fact that change is in the air comes from an interesting piece of psychological research by Dan Simons and Christopher Chabris. They got participants to watch a video of two teams of people passing balls to each other.

They asked people to count the number of times a particular team passed the ball. After the video, they asked the viewers whether they had noticed a woman — dressed in a gorilla costume — walking through the middle of the players. 

Roughly half of the participants had entirely failed to spot her, and would often refuse to believe the researchers until they were shown the video again. 

This phenomenon of ‘inattentional blindness’ comes from the fact that our brains have limited resources and, if we are focusing hard on a demanding task, our brains will often filter out any information that doesn't seem to be relevant to the job in hand. 

So, because we are immersed in concentrating on our day job, we sometimes don't see the indicators of imminent change that should be obvious to us. Even if we do notice signs of change, we may not act on them. This is partly because the uncertainty associated 
with a possible change can make us feel uncomfortable, so we just avoid thinking about it until it is so close that it is unavoidable. 

Partly, though, it is genuinely hard to think clearly about things that haven't happened yet and are ambiguous. In the rest of this section I will discuss a couple of techniques to help you think constructively about potential future change. 

At this point you may want to pause the podcast so that you can download the accompanying worksheets. I won’t talk you through the exercises because, hopefully, the instructions on the sheets are fairly self-explanatory. What I will do is talk about how you can use these techniques in practice and what benefits they might have for your ability to anticipate change.

Force-field analysis is designed to increase your awareness of the internal and external factors that make change more or less likely. It’s not an easy exercise, especially if you haven’t done anything like it before, but it gets easier with practice. 

To increase your chances of spotting early signs of change, make it a regular habit to take a step back from your day-to-day work and take time to assess the bigger picture. You could do this on the first Monday of the month or as part of your preparation for performance reviews. It’s important to do it regularly because, even if you find it hard to estimate the absolute strength of the various forces, it should be possible to observe if they are growing or shrinking over time.

Being more aware of the forces for and against change can also make it more likely that you can act to influence the situation ahead of time by drawing attention to particular forces.

Scenario planning helps to deal with the fact that it is hard to think about lots of vague future possibilities all at the same time. By identifying as many different possible outcomes as you can, and then dealing with each of them one by one, you can think more clearly about what options you might have in a range of situations.

This type of what-if thinking helps you to develop a range of contingency plans, so that when the situation eventually becomes clearer you can respond more quickly.

These exercises can be used to think constructively about externally imposed change in an organisation, but they can also be applied to help you evaluate your individual situation if you are considering a self-imposed change.

Neither of these techniques will make thinking about change completely easy, but they will help you to think in a more structured way. You may find it helpful to discuss these exercises with other people that you trust, as they may be able to spot factors and generate potential scenarios that you haven’t thought of.

One final factor that makes people better at anticipating change and its consequences is how much experience of change they have. The more you have been through changes, the more likely you are to pay attention to the signs of change and to be able to plan ahead for different possible outcomes.

One way to make yourself more comfortable with change is to start conducting small change experiments. These help you to acclimatise yourself to change in circumstances that you control. It might be something as simple as taking a different route to work or picking a different place to have lunch. Perhaps try approaching familiar tasks in a slightly different way. Socialise with different people.

Experiments like this will help you to get used to the idea of change. But they will also introduce you to new ways of thinking and they will help you to notice different factors in your environment. In the remaining parts of this podcast, we will look at how you can deal more effectively with change as it is happening and at how you can ensure that you learn all the possible useful lessons from a change that has recently happened.

Welcome to the second part of the Prospect podcast on managing change.

In the first part of this podcast we looked at ways in which you could increase your ability to anticipate and engage with change before it occurs. In this section, we will look at some ways to deal constructively with change whilst it’s happening.

Because change tends to have a larger negative impact when we have less control over the situation, in this podcast I will assume that we are dealing with imposed organisational change such as a restructuring rather than change you have initiated yourself.

First we will look at how to deal with the emotional responses that sometimes make it hard for us to manage change appropriately. 

Our emotions are good at letting us know that we need to do something in response to what is happening around us. However, they are not always effective at helping us to pick the right course of action in a complex situation.

For example, if we are afraid or anxious because of the uncertainty around change, we can become hypersensitive to threats, real or imagined. This can lead us to spot malicious conspiracies behind every action and to suspect every motive. 

This, in turn, makes it hard for us to find out what is really going on, because we filter the information we receive, looking for threats. It also makes it hard to cooperate with others because we suspect everyone.

Getting angry can sometimes be a good thing because it prompts us to act. Unfortunately, anger makes us less conscious of the possible dangers in our actions. If we are driven by anger, we can become too impulsive and reckless, failing to think about the potential consequences or implications of what we do.

Often during the early stages of change, there is a limit to what we can do to influence things. We experience a loss of control and we feel like nothing we can do will make a difference. This state of helplessness can become a habit. We stop trying to influence things and that often means that we fail to spot opportunities to act when they emerge, because we have stopped looking.

When we run the CareerPlus workshops, we address the emotions provoked by change. When we do this, the participants often start to see opportunities for action that they hadn’t been aware of before or had dismissed as pointless.

One of the first steps in dealing with unhelpful emotional reactions is to become more consciously aware of your emotions by identifying and naming them. This is a way of bringing them under your control and activating the clear-thinking part of your brain.

The handout entitled Your Response to Change will help you to stop and think about your emotional reactions. It may be worthwhile to do this exercise on a regular basis throughout a change process to monitor any changes in how you feel.

You can also consciously choose to adopt attitudes that are more likely to help you to deal with change and produce positive outcomes. Here are five useful ones. 

Number 1: Curiosity — Seeking to understand and showing a genuine interest in things often prompts people to reveal more than fear-inspired, suspicious demands for information. Curiosity makes you think about what you need to learn?

Number 2: Optimism — This isn’t about assuming that everything will turn out wonderfully. It’s about actively looking for potential upsides and learning opportunities in every situation, even negative ones.

Number 3: Determination — If you are not listened to or you don’t get the information you need the first time, don't give up. Sometimes you just have to be politely persistent and keep reminding people of your needs.

Number 4: Flexibility — Persistence is good, but not if you just do the same ineffective things over and over again hoping for a different result. Flexibility prompts you to ask ‘How else could I approach this?’

Number 5: Courage — Courage, like anger; enables you to act and take risks. Unlike anger, courage allows you to act in full awareness of the potential implications of your actions.

One way to foster these responses is to regularly ask yourself two questions:

If I demonstrate curiosity, optimism, determination, flexibility or courage in this situation, what benefits might 
that have?


How would I go about demonstrating curiosity, optimism, determination, flexibility or courage in this situation? Another way to help you cope more constructively with change is to remind yourself of what is important to you 
and to reinforce your self-image.

The second handout that accompanies this part of the podcast is an exercise on Roles and Goals. It is based on research which shows that something called ‘self-validation’ can make you better equipped to deal with potentially threatening situations by giving you a stronger sense of identity and purpose. 

This provides you with a compass to navigate your way through change and helps you to make decisions about the future in the face of uncertainty.

But it’s not just about helping you to cope better with change. In some cases, by thinking constructively, you may be able to influence the course of change. During the depths of the recession, there were numerous examples of workers suggesting alternative ways to face the financial difficulties — offering to take temporary pay cuts in order to save the jobs that might have been lost by managerial-led changes.

The people who make decisions about organisational change sometimes make bad choices because they don’t have all the information they need and they are not aware of all the possible options that would enable them to make good choices.

Even the best leaders will have blind-spots — things that they don’t realise that they don’t know about or don’t realise that they need to take into consideration.

Rather than just assuming that they should know and complaining about the bad decisions, you may be in a position to provide them with the one piece of information that helps them to make a better decision, especially if you seek the help of your union.

The final accompanying handout, Preparing to give feedback on change, takes you through a process for putting together ideas and suggestions that might help managers to make better change decisions. It also indicates ways of presenting your arguments that increase your chances of being taken seriously.

Remember that senior managers are human beings too. They are quite likely to be sensitive to possible threats to their status and accusations about their intentions.

You may think that their decisions and actions are stupid. You may be right. But telling them that straight is likely to activate their defence mechanisms. You might make yourself feel better for a while by making them feel bad, but you will not be heard and you will not get your point across.

Welcome to the final part of this podcast on change management from Prospect.

In part 1, we looked at ways of anticipating change. In part 2 we looked at some techniques for navigating your way through change as it happens. In this part we will look at how you can adapt more quickly to change once it has happened and how you can maximise what you learn from the experience so that you are better equipped to deal with further change in the future.

So, the biggest part of the change has happened...

Your organisation has been restructured and you have been allocated a role in the new structure. You have taken the redundancy package and had your last day at work. You have handed in your notice and it’s day one of your new job. You got the retirement package you wanted and you don’t have to go into work any more.

The biggest part of the change has happened externally, but internally it may still be happening.

An external change of circumstances, whether it’s imposed or voluntary, can have a profound impact on a number of things: your self-esteem and confidence, your sense of identity and purpose, your valued relationships and interactions, and so on.

For example, a common reaction to starting in a new role is a feeling of incompetence. In your old role you knew what to do and how everything worked. Now, you feel like you know nothing and you’re a bit of an impostor.

Many people who take retirement miss the sense of purpose that going to work gave them. They sometimes find it hard to build the social interactions that were automatically available in the workplace.

One individual facing redundancy and a change of career because of government cuts to public services said, “I don’t know what to call myself now when I meet people. I used to be able to introduce myself as a forensic scientist. Calling myself an ex-forensic scientist sounds pathetic.”

The scenario planning exercise in part 1 of this podcast might help to prepare you for some of these changes. Similarly, the ‘What has changed for you’ exercise accompanying this part may help you to reflect on possible impacts and start thinking about the future.

Often, before our minds can start to engage with the future, they have to make sense of the past. We have to readjust our mental maps to take into account the distance we have travelled. When a recent change has been dramatic, disruptive and distressing — especially if you have had little control in the process — it can be hard to find meaning straightaway.

Waiting for the meaning to emerge doesn’t always work. Sometimes you have to seek it out.

One exercise that sometimes helps is to imagine that you have travelled forward in time to meet your future self at a time when you have settled into your new circumstances and have started thriving again.

At this point, your future self can look back on what you have just been through with a greater sense of perspective. They realise that although it was traumatic at the time, they really learnt a useful lesson from it that has benefitted them since. Imagine that your current self asks your future self what this lesson was. What might they say?

If your imagination fails you, you might find similar inspiration by talking to people who have been through similar changes in the past. You could even look back to experiences in your past that you found traumatic at the time and think about what you learnt from them in order to get a sense of how distance can help you to reinterpret events.

Another thing that your brain likes to do in order to process change events is to work out how to deal with the situation better if it happens again. As with the sense-making, this can drive you to go round and round in circles if you don’t apply some structure to your thoughts.

One technique you can apply is called counterfactual thinking — which is a fancy name for something we do a lot of the time, namely thinking about what else we could or should have done in the circumstances.

The handout ‘What could have been different?’ takes you through this process. As with all of the exercises accompanying this podcast, you may find it easier to work through it with another person to give you an alternative perspective.

In the second part of this podcast, I talked about five attitudes — curiosity, optimism, determination, flexibility and courage — that could help you to deal more effectively with change as it happens around you. They can also help you to adapt more quickly to new circumstances in the aftermath of change. Keep asking yourself those two questions about the possible benefits and the opportunities for using these attitudes.

In her book Working Identity, subtitled Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career, Professor Herminia Ibarra talks about the ‘test and learn’ approach to navigating change. She applies this approach to people who are seeking to change career direction voluntarily, but it can equally be relevant to those of you trying to find your feet in new circumstances.

The approach has three elements: crafting experiments, shifting connections and making sense.

Crafting experiments is about doing new things in new ways and taking small, controlled risks in a similar way to that described in part 1 of this podcast to prepare you for change.

Shifting connections is about actively seeking out new people to interact with who didn’t know you in your old circumstances. You can find it hard to adapt to new situations if you spend all of your time with people who remind you of who you used to be and what you may have lost. You don’t need to abandon your old friends, just make sure you are taking steps to make new ones who can give you a different perspective and don’t come with inbuilt assumptions about you.

Making sense is about finding new ways to describe yourself and practising telling the story of your transition from who you were to who you are now. This can involve talking to people about your new identity and even keeping a journal in which you can practise talking about yourself in a new way.

This is the last part of the Prospect podcast on Managing Change. It’s a big topic and we have only scratched the surface, but hopefully, we have given you some inspiration and some resources that will help you get to grips with the process of change.

Not all of the exercises and approaches mentioned are useful for everyone in every circumstance, so try them out and use what works for you.

I hope you have enjoyed the podcast and found it useful.

Good luck with your changes.