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The challenges of managing change

Fiona Mee, author of Managing Change from the International Management English series, looks at how trainers can help people better manage change in their working lives.

What are some of the challenges of managing change and how can trainers support the process?
Change is something that touches most international professionals today so if youre working in the professional language and communication or intercultural skills training environment, you will probably have already come across people who say things like, I have to present this new programme, explain how the department will be restructured, convince my team that this idea should be implemented, tell people they are going to be made redundant, tell my boss that I dont agree with these changes, represent my members to support them through this change, talk about how I can manage my career.. Whether people are communicating change, managing change across cultures or at the receiving end of change, effective training and development can be of great benefit. In this article Id like to look at some of the challenges for those involved from these different perspectives and then look at how trainers can help people better manage changes in their working lives and finally focus on how training professionals can develop themselves as well as others in a changing world.

What kind challenges are there for those communicating change?

Change must be communicated in a way that makes people believe in it. When people are exposed to change, often they are faced with having to do things differently, this is experienced as behavioural change and is only achieved when the new way has been practised extensively and old habits have been replaced. However, what happens if the person doesnt believe in the new way, if he or she sees this as fundamentally against


his/her values? For example a new teaching methodology is introduced into a college to comply with a national directive. The teacher is told she has to teach according to the new method, but she doesnt believe this methodology is challenging enough. Her results have always been the best and as far as she is concerned her methodology is the reason for that. People will not change their behaviour if they dont fundamentally believe they should. Those managing change may very well have a valid case for why the changes are necessary, but if they cant get this across, change will be hard and slow to implement. If youre

working with those that have to present change to others, make sure they make a case for change and provide a solution that is relevant to the audience. Remember that at this stage, the audience may be feeling angry or confused and any change leader has to take this into account. Help your participant prepare by answering these questions Why is the chan ge necessary? What will happen if we dont change? Who will be affected? What will change mean to all the different people involved? What support will be available to people?

What kind of challenges are there when managing change across cultures?
The process must be adapted to fit different cultural contexts. The problems of managing change are multiplied if youre dealing with change across an international organisation where there are multiple cultural levels. In an intercultural context, establishing a common goal is not usually the most difficult issue, but how you get there will often need to be adapted significantly for each context. For example a company which has thus far worked with a strong hierarchical power structure wants to increase delegation and empower employees further down the hierarchical ladder. This may mean giving more decision making power to younger employees. In social structures where senior, older people have authority, trying to upset the balance in this way may cause enormous problems. In these contexts it will be beneficial for the participant to enter into consultation with those involved to establish what steps can be taken to help the organisation get where it needs to go including what the role will be of the individuals, without damaging local cultural norms. Encourage participants to raise their cultural awareness by observing and listening more and asking questions before imposing decisions or ways of doing things.


What about those at the receiving end of change?

Managing change is really managing survival. Over time existing structures, beliefs and ways of doing things become redundant and as a result change happens. We can be passive and wait for change to impact on us or we can be more proactive and work with change. In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks ab out how to achieve contentment and how a key factor is to be in control of ones destiny. He says we have all experienced times when, instead of being buffered by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasion that this happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration. If all individuals felt in control of the changes that were going on around them, if they could proactively manage their working lives, perhaps there would be greater engagement and motivation in organisations and less anxiety when security slips away.

How can trainers help participants proactively manage change in their professional lives?
You can start by looking at some contexts of change and develop language related to competition, innovation, market shifts, global and technological changes, continuous improvement as well as crisis management. Ask your participants to do a simple analysis of the threats and opportunities facing their profession as a whole and then move to their own position within that profession and organisation. Ask these questions: Is the demand for the work that you do or for the services that you offer decreasing? , Do you feel less motivated by your work today than in the past?, Has management changed?, Has the government or policy changed? Once you have your answers, you can work with your participants to focus on future opportunities. Ask them what they could do to change themselves. Encourage the participant to describe how they see the future and what they need to do to prepare for that. Do they need to develop new skills? Build new relationships? Increase their exposure in the organisation? Prepare to work internationally? Or do they need to prepare to leave? Let the participant find their own place in the future vision and then help them build a plan of how to get there. A powerful tool that can be implemented to support people to take control of their journey and to proactively manage the changes that affect them with more frequency as the world becomes more volatile, uncertain, chaotic and accelerated is coaching. Coaching puts responsibility firmly in the hands of the


coachee and commits him or her to positive action. This will help your participant engage with change or at least manage the consequences if he or she finally decides to reject it.

What can trainers do to develop themselves to support others through change?

For the experienced business English, communication skills and intercultural trainer, a natural next step is often to move into the coaching profession and essentially the function of coaching is to bring about change. There are various qualifications that can be taken as well as organisations established to support the development of the coaching profession as a whole. Becoming a professional coach can raise your status and value in the training world and it sets you apart from the financially undervalued world of TEFL. Conversely, professional coaches who come from a background of teaching professional language, communication and intercultural skills can add a significant amount of value to the profession of coaching as being aware of the language we use, the way we communicate and how the many layers of culture effect everything we are and do can be so fundamental to the process of managing change. This means that the trainer/coach in this context is very well placed to support participants through change, particularly in an international context.

What is the future for the profession?

We cant really talk about supporting others managing change without focussing on managing change ourselves. As increasing numbers of trainers become international coaches a new profession will emerge and as a body we need to cha nge the perception of the market by re-branding what we do, we need to increase our financial and professional value and we need to convince others of the benefits of working with us. Organisations spend millions on international change initiatives every year, these often fail to reach their goal on time and people are put under huge amounts of pressure and stress resulting in low levels of motivation and productivity. We can help change this for the better.


Further Reading
If you want to find out more about how to support people managing change and also how to manage change in your own professional life, you could look at some of the following references.

Leading Change John Kotter (Harvard Business School Press 1996) Flow - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Random House 2002) The Silent Language Edward T Hall (Bantam Doubleday Dell 1988) The Routledge Companion to International Business Coaching edited by Michel Moral, Geoffrey Abbott (Routledge 2011)