Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Taking charge of change

Key skill everyone needs to master

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Most of us have recently heard rumblings about the 2012 phenomenon and the potential meaning of this date. Some say there'll be a cataclysmic or transformative event, while others suggest it's simply the start of a new era. With this in mind, some people set their wedding for the once in a lifetime date of Dec. 12, 2012 (12/12/12). Still others throughout the month have simply ventured into the dark of the night to have a celebratory drink under the stars or send off firecrackers.

For those extremists who favoured a belief that December 2012 signalled the end of the world; well, it seems this is proving to be much ado about nothing. Christmas and New Year's are only days away and families are gearing up for the traditional exchange of gifts and good food. Some people are also anxious for New Year's Day as they have their so-called resolutions all lined up and ready to go.

To be honest, most New Year's resolutions actually do create a major transformative event for people. That's because most people promise to go on a drastic diet instead of doing long-term sustainable planning for more healthy meals. Still others purchase memberships at a local gym and promise to attend three times per week. And then there are those individuals who resolve to look for a new job or apply for promotion or a transfer within their current firm.

Yet, we all know what happens to most New Year's resolutions. They slowly deteriorate and then disappear unless an individual exerts incredible dedication to their goal of personal change. And that's part of the problem, people just don't realize how challenging making personal change really is and they struggle with how to set reasonable goals that will ensure success.

Managing change personally and professionally in my view is now becoming a key skill that all employees will need to master. After all, there will be so many workplace changes coming our way that we can't afford to allow ourselves to be put in a situation where we'll be surprised and overwhelmed. With this in mind, the following strategies will help you to prepare for workplace changes in 2013.

Identify potential changes -- the list of changes that can impact our work lives is endless. This includes changes such as a new boss, a new job, loss of a job or retirement. Our personal changes can range from illness or death in the family to changes in a family home, family status or simply enrolling in an educational program. Take time to reflect on the nature of changes that you anticipate for 2013, make a list and then examine how many changes you believe you'll experience. The higher the number of changes, the more challenging change will be for you.

Examine your response to change -- some people are truly "change masters" who are undaunted by change that comes their way. However, most people are challenged by change. They deny it, ignore it, resist it or avoid it and when change is forced upon them, they can suffer from headaches, sleeplessness or depression. Learn to identify the signals that suggest you are experiencing change challenges.

Understand change management -- no matter what, change is very emotional but it does follow a well-known normal cycle. This includes experiencing shock or relief when you first learn about a change, then anger and/or sadness, acceptance, testing out and letting go and finally, embracing the change. Understanding that these reactions are normal will help you to accept your feelings and start to make plans to move forward.

Develop personal resilience -- everyone has the capability of developing resilience. Resilience is the ability to think things through clearly and to make realistic plans. It means learning to avoid viewing change as an insurmountable problem or engaging in "fear mongering" in such a way that you simply frighten yourself even more. Work on developing personal self-confidence which in turn will create the resilience you need to recognize your emotions and enable you to deal with them in a positive way.

Put a self-care plan in place -- create a self-care strategy that you can quickly put in place whenever you feel negative symptoms related to change. This should include reaching out to family and friends and setting small, daily incremental goals that will help you to get through the tough time. Find a way to nurture and recharge yourself. This could range from your time-honoured activities to trying something new.

Focus on the positive -- if you have to, write down the pros and cons of your current challenge. Visualize your life once the change is complete and avoid adopting a victim mentality. Take time to document what you are doing well and what you have learned. Most people take themselves for granted so you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Give yourself ongoing credit -- no matter how small the change, I guarantee it will require at least one year before you are fully comfortable. Managing change requires incremental steps and so it is important to focus on the effort you are putting into changing your behavior. Give yourself credit for what you've accomplished to date.

Develop a personal strategic plan -- strategic planning isn't simply for businesses. Individuals can develop a personal five-year goal as well. For instance, if you know information technology or leadership skills are going to be extremely important for future job security, then develop a plan to upgrade your skills ahead of time. If a European holiday has been a lifelong dream, then incorporate it into your plan; however, be sure to stay flexible.

Maintain an achievement journal -- maintaining an ongoing achievement journal where you are continually documenting your accomplishments is a good idea especially if you are unexpectedly propelled into the job market. Not only will this information enable you to quickly update your resume, the practice is really good for self esteem. Hey, there's nothing wrong with patting yourself on the back!

So far, it seems the 2012 phenomenon has been much ado about nothing. Yet no matter what, whether planned or unplanned, personal and professional change is indeed a phenomenon that will always be in our lives. Therefore, I believe the best way to deal with change is to develop personal resilience and to view change not as cataclysmic but rather as a transformative event that makes us wiser and stronger.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed, is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2012 H1

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