Adapting to change in the workplace: Advice from Kerryn Fewster of Change2020

By Robert Half 11 June 2018

Today, disruption and change are constants.

Whether it’s a shift in organisational structure, the creation and adoption of new technology, an increased pace of work or developing new strategy after a project set-back, change in the workplace takes on many forms.

Given the frequency and diversity of business change, it’s easy to see why resilience and adaptability are required by organisations across all industries in Australia.

Kerryn Fewster is the founder and director of Change2020, a collective of change consultants who help organisations develop sustainable strategy and clarity of vision in times of change. In a recent presentation addressing why resilience is critical for today’s leaders, she noted the vital role they play in building and fostering resilience in their teams.

“Leaders today must not only build new and different capabilities, but actively manage their capacity for exercising leadership. Developing resilience to handle complexity is not a luxury, but a strategic advantage for both individuals and organisations,” she says.

Adapting to change

While resilience has always been a relevant skill for employers, Fewster says that this quality is more necessary than ever before, driven by both the pace and complexity of change in workplaces today.

“We need a call to action for communities everywhere. There is so much uncertainty. What once ensured you’d be relatively successful and secure is no longer the case. For example, we now celebrate the term ‘disruption’,” she says.

The good news is that learning how to manage business change and leading employees to do the same starts with small changes.

“It’s a simple strategy of breaking problems into bite-size chunks. Ask yourself, ‘what can you achieve today?’ Yes, the problem is big and you might not have a solution today, but you can put practices in place to ensure there’s progress. The other really important thing is to only try and control what you can control. Learn how to embrace ambiguity and how to let ambiguity be a part of your world without being a terrifying thing,” she says.

Technology is here to stay

But what of the change you can’t control? Ongoing digitisation and automation continues to disrupt and change the workforce in Australia and internationally, rendering traditional role functions redundant. For those unsure of how to remain resilient in the face of technological change, Fewster offers this advice:

“You cannot outrun technology, it is here to stay. Find a way to partner with it, make it useful, and learn about it. Do not fear it, for trying to outrun it will leave you redundant. It is the responsibility of every person to at least be curious about technology and it is the responsibility of every leader, regardless of industry, to understand how technology can improve their business. Betting on technology is a sure way to win,” she says.

More broadly, Fewster has ten key areas through which leaders can develop themselves and their employees, increasing their aptitude and appetite for change in the workplace. They focus on embracing challenge, developing curiosity and celebrating difference. One of the most important areas is “finding your tribe”, which Fewster says is all about “surrounding yourself with people who are committed to the same outcomes as you, those who will challenge and support you, those who are keen to see change and innovation.”

Recruiting for change

For employers, the benefits of hiring and developing resilient staff are manifold. Fewster confirms that staff with a tolerance for ambiguity tend to be more creative, have diversified problem-solving solutions and a capacity to embrace complexity rather than looking for the simple options and taking comfort in old process.

“These skill sets are absolutely critical for the modern workplace,” she confirms.

Fewster also says there are serious consequences for leaders and organisations that neglect to develop and support resilience in the workplace.

“First and foremost, the biggest consequence is high levels of stress. Stress is costing organisations in this country close to AUD$14.81 billion a year. It has far reaching effects. The other serious consequence is that people don’t take risks because they’re too nervous or scared to do so. They miss opportunities,” says Fewster.

But overall, when it comes to developing employees that are capable of adapting to change across workplaces in Australia, Fewster is wholly optimistic.

“You’re not born with resilience, and you don’t have to go through trauma to learn it. It’s about learning how to bounce back from set-backs and disappointment and understanding that it’s the product of putting a plan in place, removing an obstacle, or committing to new behaviours or habits.”

“Adopt a passion for change and newness,” she adds. “Be curious and look at things from a different perspective; ask questions rather than running away from it—all of these things help to build resilience,” she concludes.

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