We all manage change differently. Margaret Zuppinger shares her top tips for surviving on a diet of change.
Change is all around us and forms part of our everyday life, at home and at work. However, while some of us relish the challenges that change offers, others do not: we are all unique in our makeup and we all manage change differently – not rightly or wrongly – just differently.
How do some people seem to manage change more easily than others? For example, when we fall in love, that is change, our lives are turned upside down; however – culturally and individually – we don't see it as a bad thing. We might not even think of it as change! It is often only the things that we perceive as negative that we are unsettled by.
We like certainty and, because change often introduces uncertainty, our brains go into threat avoidance mode. As human beings, we are programmed for survival, so, as we are working hard trying to figure out the impact of what the ‘new’ will bring, this can trigger our fight or flight response, which results in a physiological reaction: blood leaving the ‘thinking brain’ and going to the ‘juvenile’, more emotional brain – which all goes to help explain why some adults become less easy to reason with, see threats from leaders and colleagues where none really exists, struggle to listen and may even become indecisive in a change situation.
Does any of this seem familiar? If so, good, it means that you are recognising that not everyone is taking change in their stride and understanding this can be very helpful when managing others who are coming to terms with change.
What are the changes that you may be managing? Who may you be supporting as they manage change? For a moment let's consider some of the likely change scenarios for small to medium accountancy practices which were headlined at Accountex 2016:
cloud computing and accounting systems
the government’s digital strategy
merging with or acquisition of another practice or even supporting your clients, who are themselves meeting many new and complex challenges within their businesses and are looking to their accountant to support them.
What do all these changes and challenges have in common? A combination of both situational and psychological elements: new offices, new procedures, new software, a new manager - these are all situational elements of change and, while they may not always be easy to embrace, they are at least visible.
However, there is also the psychological process we go through in order to come to terms with the new situation or circumstance in which we find ourselves. In other words, transitions need to happen from the past to the present and into the future – manage these transitions and you will manage the change more effectively.
In order thrive on a diet of change, we need to:
understand that change is a process, with different stages, that each of us will experience in different ways
ask questions to ensure that we understand the change ourselves, before trying to influence others
meet colleagues, clients, and external agencies where they are, not where we would like them to be
manage the transitions from the old to the new empathetically
clarify and communicate effectively and frequently with everyone and to every level in the organisation: accurate and timely information helps to reduce uncertainty
ensure that you generate feedback during every stage of the change process to keep the change on track and ensure that the message is reaching every part of the organisation
explain the reasons for the change in a language that people will understand
have realistic expectations of yourself and others during the process
don’t declare victory too early – you need evidence that changes are embedded and will be sustained in the long term.
What is the benefit to yourself and your clients of embracing the change process in the terms outlined above? In two simple phrases: significant cost saving and increased likelihood of future business success. Change is expensive and change that is not well planned and communicated is even more expensive. It is hard to see how future business success will be achieved without taking on board the changes that are on the horizon for the accountancy profession.
Margaret Zuppinger – director, Margaret Zuppinger Partnership Ltd