While the back-to-school season marks a return to the comfort of a regular routine in most families, for students, it is a time of untried challenges and unfamiliar changes. New schools, new teachers, new classmates, new course loads and new expectations are just the tip of the iceberg -- the changes are often overwhelming.
Of course, change does not stop upon graduation and our entrance into the working world; on the contrary. The workplace is a rapidly changing environment, and both employees and employers need to prepare to manage the evolving and sometimes unpredictable, developments that come their way.
If it seems as if it's getting increasingly difficult to keep up with the dizzying rate of change at work, you're not alone in this perception, nor is it simply imagined. Four factors causing this acceleration are:
1. Technological advances will continue to affect how, when and where business is conducted as well as how we communicate while carrying out our work. It has been said that we will not merely experience 100 years of technological advances this century -- at today's pace, it will be more like 20,000 years of progress.
2. The accumulation of knowledge is also multiplying at a staggering rate. Consider this: By 1900, it took 150 years to double human knowledge; today, it takes only one or two years. By 2020, it is estimated that knowledge will double every 72 days.
3. The global economy has meant that companies are no longer only competing with the rival business down the block. They are contending for talent, resources and customers with companies around the world, including those set up as low-startup, low-overhead operations.
4. Different workplace dynamics are now in play, as the millennials (born in the '80s and '90s) are the largest demographic to enter the workforce since the boomers, who are retiring en masse. Because of this new generation's unique set of values and its proclivity for technology, their very presence is changing the rules of the workplace.
How is it possible to stay on top of changes so that we do not blink and realize that the world around us has suddenly shifted forward while we were busy doing other things?
Flexibility, training, education and most importantly, thorough preparation will certainly help, as well as staying mindful of what is happening in your company, the marketplace and the industry at large. Employees (and job seekers) should demonstrate a positive attitude toward change and that they are able to remain engaged, ready to adapt and open to various outcomes.
The following are tips for both employees and employers in successfully implementing and managing change:
What is the motivation for the change? Change occurs when an organization finds motivation to do something differently. Sometimes, it is driven by an external issue such as management changes or a merger, while other times, it is due to an internal factor such as a technology upgrade or a growth expansion.
What are the potential gains? When an organization finds the motivation needed to change things up, leadership must conduct an analysis of the benefits and the risks associated of making the change -- and what are the potential risks of not making it?
Where do we want to go? If it is determined that the change will be beneficial, the organization then develops a plan for implementing it. This stage is vital because change will mostly likely fail without careful planning as to how it will be implemented, supported and evaluated.
What will the impact be on our people and operations? Changes can be gradual or abrupt, hardly noticeable or major upheavals. The larger the proposed change, the more care and planning that is required. Which individuals and systems will be most affected? What is the most efficient way to make this change without inconveniencing customers?
What supports are needed as we adopt, monitor and adjust? In addition to determining desired outcomes and establishing the most suitable ways to measure results, organizations should define how communication will remain open during the review process, how key individuals will be engaged and how, if any, adjustments will be made to the original plan if it falls short of expectations.
Lastly, today's brisk rate of change demands a different type of workplace leader. No longer can managers afford to be about developing hierarchal structures, setting controls, crunching numbers and expecting employees to simply follow their lead. No, the most successful leaders will be those who can inspire change and develop leadership abilities in others.
Through team-building, effective communication, time management and willingness to embrace new technology, these leaders will excel at empowering everyone in the organization to navigate their own way through constant changes, which in turn will lead the organization to achieving its goals.
-- With reporting by Barbara Chabai
Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.