Everything changes all the time: how can we survive and thrive in a complex world?

Organisations in every sector and region are under constant pressure.  Competitive and commercial imperatives, changes in the external environment combined with each organisation’s own strategy, goals and aspirations mean that no-one can stand still. It is a challenge to deliver, and all of this takes its toll on individual personal stamina.

This is the first of a short series of blogs that will:

  • explain our natural, human response to change
  • outline some practical approaches to make change more effective, and
  • offer tips and guidance on how organisations, teams and individuals can survive and thrive in a demanding environment.

Under pressure

Does this sound familiar?  A UK government making its mark, changing policies, membership of the EU under question, and instability in the wider global context.  All create uncertainty about the future.  The way we do business becomes more complex; changes mean increased risk; tough commercial pressures need to be balanced with values, quality and customer service.   For people from the frontline to leadership levels, complexity and pressure are mounting.

It’s a VUCA world…

I work with people in a range of sectors and most are facing external change and challenges.  The popular shorthand acronym to cover all of this is VUCA – volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous.  We live in a VUCA world, and it certainly feels like it in these early days of 2016.  External pressures drive organisation change.  In response, we reorganise, merge, rationalise, and attempt to do more with less, faster.  Inside organisations there are sometimes still ingrained patterns, attitudes and ways of working that can make it hard to achieve the flexibility, commerciality and adaptability that we need.

… and that’s not going to change

It’s tempting to think of change as a temporary phase, but change is not going to stop, and the world is not going to become any less VUCA.  The truth is that everything changes all the time – in our environment, our work lives and in our personal lives.  So it will serve us well to understand change a little better, and to build our skills and capability to respond, to protect our resilience, and to make the most of the opportunities and challenges that emerge and confront us.

If you have been in the world of work for any length of time, you will appreciate that change programmes have a chequered history.  Many disappoint – the merger where two cultures never really blended and years later people still cling to their old identity.  The new and expensive IT system that people work around because it doesn’t do what they need; and the process that everyone bad-mouths and avoids.  John Kotter (1995 and 2012) researched organisation change programmes and came to the conclusion that most change efforts fail to deliver the expected business benefits.  He pointed not to poor planning or limited resources, but to the importance of the people aspects of change – to engagement, sponsorship and leadership, communications and a clear vision.

What we seem to forget is that change is not achieved when we make a plan, move offices, put in a new IT system, tell people to change, or publish a set of corporate values.  Change is only complete and effective when real, live, human beings (you and me) decide to engage and put our energy into doing something differently.

Given all of this, how can we manage ourselves and others more effectively through change?

Changes of any sort – even though they may be justified in economic or technological terms – finally succeed or fail on the basis of whether the people affected do things differently” (Bridges, 2003, p.6).

Consider transitions, not just change

In my experience working with organisations, teams and individuals, a really helpful way to understand the impact of change on us and our colleagues (or families) and to shape more effective change projects and programmes is William Bridges’ Transitions model.  Bridges talks about three phases of transition:   Endings, the Neutral Zone and New Beginnings.  Each one is essential, and in  the next blog, I’ll talk more about each phase and share some useful insights about making change successful.

Jennifer Cramb

 I’ll be at the Bondholder Breakfast 27 January – find me there if you’d be interested to discuss change and transitions.


Jennifer Cramb is an experienced and accredited coach, facilitator and consultant, enabling teams and individuals to navigate change, to flourish and succeed in their working lives.  She has extensive business experience, working in senior roles in KPMG and Railtrack, supported by an MSc in Organisation Change from Ashridge and a Cranfield MBA.

Telephone: 07813 176 505