New Year, New Leadership Mindset: Embracing Change in the Workplace

How to recognize change as an opportunity to enhance your leadership strategies for the unpredictable.
7 min read | by Jennifer Cameron
Different color pencils in a circle

As we prepare to kickoff the new year, what are your leadership plans? Are you sitting down with one day left of this calendar year reflecting on what you accomplished, setting goals around what you can do new, better, or differently? I am. In fact, I printed off a goal setting template for my family so that each of us can document such things. But as I prepare for that little family exercise (which is a big hit, if you’re wondering) I find my fingers typing this.

One goal of mine this year as a business partner and entrepreneur is to write more content. I find the process of writing helps me release, reflect, and rejuvenate. And this is a perfect time to do just that. Nothing like ringing in the new year to get the juices flowing. Although, side note, I am a big supporter in doing things as they arise and not waiting for a silly resolution to take control of what you want done. Goals are action-oriented unlike resolutions.

Top of mind for me at the moment is leadership. Whether you want to admit it or not, we are enduring times of constant change; not just minor changes but giant inconvenient changes happening all the time. Really change is just business as usual because it’s always inevitable. But how it presents itself, the frequency and duration, and how we handle it in the work environment is different now. And we have no choice but to adapt.

We no longer experience change as a singular, isolated moment where there is a beginning, middle, and end to the change where we sort of “get through it” because we know at some point it’s going to stop. Managing teams is no longer about giving employees a well-crafted set of procedures that are repeated and predictable to which you rate performance in a cut and dry way. Things are often unfamiliar and we experience uncertainty. Even change is changing. Now it looks more like one change starts and we undertake it, another different change surfaces, and we undertake that one too, and before we know it, yet another change pops up, and you guessed it, we tackle that one, too. But, right now we are not set up for success in confronting those overlapping challenges. 

HBR simplifies this concept:

“Change readiness is the ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage, minimize risk, and sustain performance.”

I often think, too, that we accept change easily when it is convenient or something we want and resist it when it doesn’t meet our immediate need or desire, regardless of whether it is the right thing to do or not. A real-time example is the return to office demand that is not working out so well for many organizational leaders. Instead of championing that change to stay remote or transition to an intentional hybrid-remote model, it was easier to just go back to the old way no matter how it impacted employees. And where has that left companies? With bitter employees who are resisting and not complying or more common, employees leaving because leadership did not manage that change scenario well. It is the perfect example because we, the general population, were not change-ready when the pandemic hit. Ideally, businesses would have had disaster-contingency plans prepared and implemented. But most did not. And now, instead of sponsoring a change opportunity to pivot into a perfectly acceptable way of working, remotely that is, it has been met with resistance and negative impact to all involved. Leadership should be handling this delicate yet critical change opportunity differently.

AI is another example. Don’t fear it. Use it. Find ways to make it an advantage for you. This is another change opportunity to innovate your business processes and brand. It would not be wise to resist or try to avoid the potential this tech has to offer.

On a personal note, one year ago today, my family and I were setting goals for the year and my nine-year old said we each needed to come up with one word to live up to in the new year. I chose ‘adventurous.’ Why? It is my nature to be prepared. I plan. I organize. I to-do list everything. And while this has served me well, it was also holding me back. I had no room for the unknown, risk, or spontaneity. Therefore, I wasn’t fully change-ready because no amount of checkboxes on my list equipped me for the things that were not on my list (and there are always going to be surprises). Intentionally being adventurous allowed me to be ok with things that typically cause me discomfort. It taught me that with risk there is reward so why not proactively go find those change opportunities from which I could learn and develop? And that is exactly what I did. It was a great year. It had lots of ups and downs. None of it was easy. But all of it was worth it.

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So bringing this all back to focus. What is left for us to do as leaders? How do we come to terms with the fact that people and processes cannot simply reproduce successes from the past? That we can no longer rely solely on organizational change methods that have worked for the last 50+ years?

Shift your mindset! A complete reframe is absolutely necessary. You know change is always around the corner so look at it as an opportunity. And because change is happening all the time, it means we are constantly faced with prospects for growth. There are steps we can take to move toward building change capacity. Here are a few:

  • Embrace change. Actually, be a champion of it. Shift away from the idea that change should be avoided to it being a chance for development. A learning organization is one that evolves and is better prepared to tackle the unknown.
  • Everyone reacts to change differently. People bring to situations their personal experiences, beliefs, and knowledge which forms their relationship to change. So at times we are resistant, passive, or controlling. But what we really need is to be aware, ready, and agile so when changes occur, it doesn’t feel like chaos. Awareness around our relationships to change will help us confront it.
  • Involving your people from the get-go. Having an executive change sponsor (you, as the leader) is not the same as engaging your employees early on; finding those champions for change initiatives. Fostering a learning culture will raise awareness around the positive impacts of change, increase engagement and ownership of change, and lead to sustained change adoption. After all, the purpose of a change is to get from one state to another.

Once you can learn and practice being a leader who is ready for change you will be able to lead your teams through change moments successfully. This will result in not just minimal resistance and high adoption of the change, but an atmosphere where those around you are looking for opportunities to grow and move from point A to point B.

Reskilling and upskilling managers and leaders are development tools necessary to level-up and meet expectations and have accountability in our current realities of work. So I challenge you to take a moment to reflect on how you are reacting to change. How you are using mechanisms to improve your readiness. If you notice that many change initiatives use resources but still result in a failure to change, it is time for a mindset shift.

Originally Published by Jennifer Cameron on Wednesday, January 3, 2024 | Updated on Sunday, April 7, 2024
Change Management
, Leadership
, Disaster Contingency
, Return-to-Office
, Future of Work
, Professional Development
, Human Resources Today
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