Resilience through organisational change

Working for the NHS during this intense period of change is proving to be a brilliant learning experience for me. For a long while I was interested in what’s happening in this space of life, reading various reports, watching the news, reading blog posts, and following those who work in the field. A friend commented recently, it’s not necessarily the change itself which is problematic, but the pace of change. The current government wants to reduce the public deficit by a certain time, and that is impacting daily life. To be part of this organisation while they’re experiencing this pressure is just fascinating.

One of the things which stands out for me is the change itself, and how varied it is. There is everything from restructuring of teams and departments, to cost improvement programmes, to redundancies, to innovations in service provision, to changes in working practices, and a whole manner of other changes I’ve yet to be exposed to. It’s interesting to see how this change is implemented, and personally it’s interesting to note how people personally manage through this scale of change.

It’s in this space of personal management of change that I want to share some thoughts.

Many change management programmes will endeavour to cater for the human side of the equation. Some common models and theories are included to help people navigate their way through the change – the Kubler-Ross model of ‘the five stages of grief’, the ‘burning platform’ model, even ‘Who Moved My Cheese’. They all offer different insights into how we think about and manage change. Put them alongside good operational and HR practice around change management and you have a good way of helping people.

What I think has been missing is finding ways for people to find their resilience through change.

I have a bias for organic ways of supporting change. That is, give people the opportunity to behave a certain way, and they’ll get there themselves. In a previous life when I was made redundant, the process was dire, and the heartening thing was the way the affected group naturally came together. Had the organisation provided a way of enabling this, our experience would have been very different. People need a space and a forum where they can voice their ongoing experience. This helps them to offload whatever is dragging them down and find support in others. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ as the adage goes, and it is certainly true in building this resilience.

There has been some very interesting research into the use of techniques such as Appreciative Inquiry in helping a group of people move forward. This tends to have better effect on those not being made redundant, and more likely to experience a shift in what they do, and in some form remain as an intact team. It allows the group to reflect on what came before, what successes were achieved, what the future looks like, and creating powerful stories of an ideal future.

In previous writing, I’ve spoken about ‘Positive Deviance‘. This is where a group is asked to find its own way through change, create a sustainable plan of action, appoint some people who will make it happen, and a consensus builds around this and finds ways to make it a success. It is important to note this approach is only designed for behavioural change, and not structural or technical change.

There are more formal interventions around training courses which can be useful, and personal one on one support for individuals too. I came across a fascinating piece of research from ACAS, around the support given to those having to deliver a message of change, called ‘envoys’. The paper helps to consider what support these envoys may require, highlights what they may experience themselves as deliverers of the message, and what they can do to look after themselves. It’s well worth considering as part of the mix as we tend to only think that the people being affected by the change are the ones actually affected.

Probably one of the most overlooked impacts of change is the possible impact on a person’s mental health. Some in an organisation will forever remain cynical about people who may claim to be experiencing difficulties during the change when you consider all of the above is designed to be supportive. We must remain vigilant that if someone is experiencing some mental health issues as a result of the change we deal with that person with care and the right support. I don’t mean get Occupational Health involved and let them take care of the person, but more supportive behaviours from managers and team members so the person knows they are valued. The two most important questions we can ask someone who might be experiencing mental health issues are “what do you do to take care of your health and well-being?” and “how can I support you?”. These will lead to good conversations around helping that person, and may also involve asking for help from people you didn’t expect to be involved.

So there we have it. There’s a lot there to consider, some more practical than others, and some requiring considerable training to help us be more effective in delivering those methods. Essentially it is all designed to offer a complete support ‘package’ and to remain mindful that processes and procedures will be useful to manage the change, and the above offers a way to help people build their personal resilience through the change.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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