The word most people have been searching for is “whipsawed.” As is both typical and cyclical, the amount of change we are experiencing and feeling continues to be unprecedented. Whether it is the workplace trend of the Great Resignation or larger, global phenomena, the ability to feel like you are “in control,” especially for CPAs, their clients and organizations, is getting harder by the hour. As the rate of change continues to accelerate, the frequency of these feelings will increase, requiring individuals to develop strategies to respond to change when they don’t know what change is coming.
We know that most change management programs don’t stick because they are rejected by employees. It makes sense — we aren’t going to create new habits or processes without wanting to do it, and change is uncomfortable. A solution is to change the focus away from the change and over to the individual who we’re asking to make the change. Successfully responding to macro change requires a focus on the micro individual. This is because the only constant throughout all of the change is the individual going through that change.
Since individuals are the central point of success, it’s best to start to adapt by explaining the “arc of change,” a four-phase response that includes awareness, preparation, learning and wisdom:
- Awareness. The first phase in responding to any change is understanding the change to which we are responding. This is more than just an exercise in recognizing that things are changing; it goes beyond to understand the speed at which things are changing. We can handle small amounts of change; yet when change is occurring in multiple facets (work, home, life) and at increasingly swift speeds, the combined level of change can be overwhelming. This awareness allows us to properly prepare.
- Preparation. At first thought, it’s tough to prepare for change when we don’t know what change is coming. But it’s important to note that we aren’t preparing for specific change, we are preparing ourselves to respond to change. This shift in thinking allows us to focus on the things we can control (physical, mental, social and financial well-being) in order to appropriately set ourselves up for success. External change will always happen in many different forms; we can only focus on our ability to respond, and that requires us to focus on the micro individual.
- Learning. Properly preparing ourselves requires us to then shift and evolve into what’s called a learning mindset. Those most effective with adapting to change understand a good balance between curiosity, humility and vulnerability that, when embraced, allows them to adjust with relative ease. Change can be painful, yet there are lessons in pain. Viewing change as an opportunity to develop and adjust, rather than something to react and respond to, is an important step in the change management process.
- Wisdom. All of the above components lead us to the holy grail: making good decisions. Ultimately, as the economy and workplace change around us, we are only as successful as the wise decisions we make in the moment. As we look back on the arc of change management and our ability to adapt in motion, we see that each step leads us to a point where we are setting ourselves up for decision-making moments.
The world, economy and workplace will continue to change. In fact, they must. And for us to remain relevant as the world changes, we also must invest in our capability to be flexible and ready to respond when appropriate. We don’t know what the next spike of change will bring, but we can guarantee that it’s coming — and soon. Those who embrace change and this arc of thinking will be the ones still standing in the coming years.