There is a saying “history repeats itself” and this is so true for change. The evolution of the human race and of the planet makes for a fascinating reading. What prominently stands out is the constant rate of change that has occurred on this planet and to every life form. On the face of it, these changes might have resulted in extreme difficulties to the species at the moment of change, but over time, the ones that have successfully evolved have invariably turned up stronger and fitter in accordance with the Darwinian theory.
In the context of organisations, the evolution is more or less similar. Imagine this – ten years ago, if we had to take a picture, what was the most common method of doing it? Probably, one would use their DSLR. Today, the most convenient way to take an instant high-resolution photograph is the phone camera. And, what happened to one of the most iconic brands, when its cameras failed to evolve– Kodak went out of business. If we pause for a moment to ponder on what went wrong with Kodak, one of the realisations would be that the organisation failed to identify that a big change (in the form of camera phones) had made its way, and thus was left unprepared. This rate of change happens to all industries and those who are able to identify them are often in a better position to deal with the change and emerge stronger.
The Psychology of Change
While we consider the natural progression of change, it is important to bear in mind that change is never easy. Often, there is an inherent and visible résistance to change in any change journey. The reason is not very difficult to comprehend. In most cases, the resistance to change is triggered out of the fear of the unknown.
It has been written in Psychology Today that our minds, like water, take the path of least resistance, and therefore, when confronted with change, it fails to follow its preferred path, thereby leading to discomfort and hence resistance. One of the theories that explain the process in which change is gradually accepted is known as the Kubler Ross Grief cycle.
- Shock Stage: The freezing moment of the mind when a person hears the news for the first time
- Denial Stage: Trying to deny the change
- Anger stage: Outpouring of emotion (“Why me?”)
- Depression Stage: Realisation that the change is final and will happen
- Testing Stage: Looking for a realistic solution to the change
- Acceptance Stage: Accepting that the change has happened or likely to happen very soon
Combining change with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity & Ambiguity (VUCA)
On the one hand, we see that change is discomforting as it challenges the status quo, disrupts routine, and upsets the rhythm, while on the other, the world is progressively operating in an increasingly VUCA environment, where shades of grey, rather than black and white are the norm. This adds another dimension to the challenge of change- limited time to anticipate or respond to change. Under such circumstances, one or more failures to respond leaves our mind more concerned with the risk of failure and increase the resistance.
In Quotes “Our minds take the path of least resistance and therefore when confronted with change, it fails to follow its preferred path thereby leading to discomfort.”
Banking and telecom are two industries that have seen significant changes in the ways of operating in recent times. Technology has played a significant role and has virtually redesigned the way organisations operate in these sectors. In the banking sector, technology has enabled banking activities through the usage of mobile banking apps. Activities like fund transfers, opening fixed deposits, stock purchases, card payments can all be done in a few clicks, thereby reducing the need for physical infrastructure and resources, including human resources. Similarly, payment banks and its acceptance across large sections of the retail market have made digital wallets more common in the past few years.
The telecom sector in India has also seen a significant change in recent years. From SIM cards to recharges, almost everything is available online, creating minimal need for human intervention. All these impending evolutions were not necessarily known at the time when they were starting to unfold, and therefore, organisations and people might have found it challenging to adapt, when the changes were happening.
Below is a block of characteristics that help in dealing with change challenges better in a more volatile and ambiguous world.
Behaviours to respond better to change
Managing a change process
The way a change process is managed plays a significant role in its success. For any change process to succeed, some of the imperatives to be considered are:
- What are the disruptions that are likely to be created both in business & in the workforce?
- How will the change impact people?
- How to communicate the change process for maximum and fastest absorption?
Unfortunately, it is not the lack of intent but lack of information that leads to challenges to the change process.
Challenges while implementing change
- People resistance: As mentioned above, employees often take the path of least resistance. This means, any change is unnerving, and hence, it creates resistance including emotions like anger, rejections, denial etc. One of the key reasons for such a response is the fear of unknown. The end result of a change process is rarely known in advance.
- Ambiguity, lack of complete information: During any change, especially in today’s time, it often is a case where the complete change journey is not clear or unknown to the leaders. This means that they realise that businesses and processes need to change, but they may not know what the final product or service may look like. This can also be challenging since the leaders are unable to share the final state, and, often this state of grey can create more uncertainty in people’s mind.
- Market forces: In some cases, sudden major disruptions take place while a change process is currently active. This could lead to further changes or departure from the previous plan. Under such circumstances, managing the change can be even more challenging as it might mean a complete change of plans.
- Communication breakdown: Communication is a crucial element in any change. It is much easier to deal with resistance when there is effective and frequent communication from leaders during the change journey. While the leaders may not be in a position to elaborate on everything related to the plan, it is crucial that there is frequent communication to the entire organisation to share as much information as possible.
Events like employee town halls etc. help in addressing queries and providing clarity to the employees. It also helps in getting first-hand information about what people are thinking and feeling. Unfortunately, in a lot of organisations, communication becomes limited during a change process for multiple reasons, which only contributes to more gossips, uninformed speculations and reduces creativity. Increased curiosity about new emerging trends/topics, and learning about them lead to newer skills, which will help stay relevant in the job market."
Types of changes impacting organisations
The three key triggers of change in organisations are via technology changes, mergers & acquisitions, and evolution of products and services. Research by different organisations indicate that the single most disruptor of these has been the impact of technology, and the results are quite apparent – from driverless cars to interconnected devices to robots in the shop floor. It is natural for these changes to impact the workforce to a large extent. Skills that were relevant a couple of years ago are now redundant, and this change will continue to gather momentum as we progressively move into a more technology-driven society.
Impact of Change on the workforce
Skill Redundancy and need for Reskilling: In terms of impact, this is probably most crucial. While it is true that certain jobs are going to be impacted due to the forces of change, it is equally true that there is going be a great demand for new skills. In fact, a recent Gartner study says that automation and AI will create 2.3 million jobs while eliminating 1.8 million. What is crucial to note is that the skills required for these 2.3 million jobs would be largely different from the ones that will be lost. That is where the need for reskilling becomes so very important. It is also good in a way that many people will be able to experience multiple careers in a single career span.
Less repetitive tasks and more “human” jobs: This will mean that jobs that need routine activities with the limited use of human faculty will become fewer, while jobs, which need the application of human intelligence, and emotions will increase. For example, factory shop floors are likely to have more robots while roles like counselling and teaching will continue to grow
Continuous learning as a way of life: Increasing curiosity about new emerging trends, topics and learning about it will lead to newer skills which will help stay relevant in the job market. This means the days of formal education are truly over. Lifelong learners are going to have a clear edge over those with fixed skills.
In Quotes “A Gartner study states that automation and AI will create 2.3 million jobs while eliminating 1.8 million. What is crucial to note is that the skills required for these 2.3 million jobs would be very different…”
Increase in gig workers: It is estimated that more than 30% of the future workforce would pertain to the gig ecosystem - seeking short-term, project-based employment as against lifelong employment with a single organisation. And, this implies that the war for talent will only increase, and organisations will have to increasingly offer exciting opportunities to attract these gig workers. It will be a win-win proposition for organisations, since, they are less likely to bear the employee cost when the business confronts a hurdle.
Do you think hybrid work arrangements would be a common feature of the workplaces going forward?
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