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Scaling Career Services (Part 6 of 7): Embracing Change as a Staff

There was an elephant in the room during our Summer 2017 Think Tanks on Scaling Career Services. We saw it coming and spoke directly to it in multiple ways. I think you probably know this elephant quite well...its your Career Center staff team.

A well led change process with an agile and committed staff can yield incredible results. But that is not easy to do. It takes a lot of group dialogue and understanding, a good amount of iterating, and knowing that change is more that just moving toward a great idea.

If you want to scale, you can learn how to do it, but the staff team around you has to change with the scaling. We should never forget that people are the implementers of great ideas.

Let's first acknowledge that change has many dimensions and also brings with it each individuals 'historical baggage' from past experiences. We can all benefit from being mindful about how we steward our past experiences, but none of us are robots, free from past emotions. Some staff are raring to go and others are deer caught in the headlights. Be mindful and talk with your teammates about how they have experienced change. You might find that they have been part of:

  • big and successful change...and it was fun

  • careless or maniacal change

  • rapid prototyping that yielded truly innovative ideas

  • long, drawn-out committees that watered down the change because everyone had to agree

  • change that happened without a vision, then again, and then again...without vision.

  • an environment of total unwillingness to change

  • many overtime hours with mixed results

When you put all these teammates together you can either see the half empty glass and call it chaos or the half full glass and call it wisdom. I choose the latter and believe you can learn a great deal from each others' pasts to help you through the upcoming change more prepared.

Resource recommendation: There is a nicely done assessment tool in the best selling book, 'Who's Got your Back?' by Keith Ferazzi, that helps people understand their more common behaviors in times of stress and change and risk. He calls the assessment, 'what's holding you back?' It can be a very good dialogue starter for teams prior to heading into change. It basically helps everyone own their unique issues and realize that we all can take risks.

During our Think Tanks in Summer 2017, Andy Ceperley, Director of The Silicon Valley Program at Claremont McKenna College, Joe Testani, Assistant Dean and Executive Director of The Gwen M Greene Career Center at the University of Rochester, and Christine Cruzvergara, AVP and Executive Director of Career Education at Wellesley College all taught on unique aspects of 'leading staff through change'. They were each magnificent as they gave attendees fresh principles to consider. I have inserted a memorable quote from each of them that graced the Twittersphere during our think tanks. After mashing together their insights, our survey results, and some gems from our think tank table discussions, I want to suggest the following four strategies to help your staff team embrace change together.

"Change the Mindset on Change" - Andy Ceperley

There is always a different way to look at a problem. Sometimes you just have to stare at it for a long time. The same is true with change. The two words I often hear most associated with change are 1. overwhelming, and 2. why?. Both of these statements can quickly lead to the most common change mindset, 'let's just get thru this!'

Think about it. Many people talk about how they can't wait until change is over. Sometimes for good reason. To counter this, make sure you identify the one clear thing you are after...the mission you are all behind. Talk about that mission all the time. It solves the 'why' question, and it can also shrink the size of the change. It's much better to move toward something, than try to just get thru something. Continually talk about what you are moving toward!

Pilot Everything

Have you every said, 'let's just try this program and learn from it, then evaluate if it makes sense to do it again?'

Did you know that piloting something is a brilliant way to create high-performing, growth-oriented teams? Harvard professor Robert Kegan, in his book Immunity to Change would say that experimentation is the quickest pathway to true change and growth. I encourage you to adopt a culture of piloting new initiatives. It provides staff:

  • the desire to give more honest feedback and make things better

  • the freedom to fail, because 'it's just a test'

  • greater desire to learn, because that is the goal of a pilot

  • training to say 'no' more often

Win, win, win and win. And don't miss that last bullet. You should also consider piloting getting rid of events. You know there are things you want to cancel in your right now! Try piloting the cancelation, you will be surprised at the process and the results.

Calm Clarity Wins

At our Boston Think Tank, Christine Cruzvergara had two groups of 8 people play a game to prove a point. The objective was to pass different sized balls to each other without dropping them. The first group played while the second group waited outside the room.

Here is how Group 1 happened: Christine rapidly gave the instructions as she started hurling balls toward them and telling them not to drop them. They got some instructions on the fly. Slight panic and nervous laughter and chaos ensued, and the team kept dropping balls as they tossed them across the circle in random directions. She told them what not to do during the game and corrected them. They were clearly out of sync, and a bit dizzy.

Here is how Group 2 happened: Before starting, Christine calmly explained that each person was to touch each ball that she was about to hand them; that she wanted them to say the name of the person they were passing it to, and that some balls would be different sizes than others. She asked them if they understood. They very systematically passed the balls around the circle and never dropped one of them. She encouraged them about what they were doing well during the game.

The difference? As much pre-game clarity as possible. Over-communication. Encouragement about what to do and what is going well. Calm. Clarity.

"Leaders, you are what you do, not what you say you'll do" - Christine Cruzverga

Process the Emotions of Change

"As leaders, we have to think about how our staff is feeling about change, but keep moving forward" -Joe Testani.

If you are on point with the first three: a clear vision, open-handed with how to best achieve results, and synced-up in mindset, you have won most of the battle. However, don't forget that the human race gets tired, needs to vent, and has emotions. Keep in mind that it is okay to grieve that you really do love the current team dimensions, but now your bestie is going to be your boss and two great staff are leaving - things will be different. Or that 20% of your job is changing. Or that you love your job title, and now you are going to be called something trendy like 'Career Jedi'. It's okay. Grieve it! Commit as a staff to listen to each other. And, as you'll learn in the video below, eat lot's of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies together! But don't stop growing and persevering. BTW: you can always leave if change is too cray, cray - you know how to win a new job search, and it might be the best thing you every did, for you and the team).

Take a look at this video Joe Testani showed at our Denver Think Tank, by Dan Heath, co-author of the book Switch. The video is called, 'Why Change is so Hard"

Ready to take on your next big change? I say go for it...but don't forget about your team!

Jeremy Podany is an innovation, leadership, and organization growth connoisseur who has helped nearly 1,000 organizations and 500 leaders, having nearly 40 leadership roles in the last 20 years. Jeremy has enjoyed a career in higher education, has helped build six unique start-ups, and is currently the Founder, CEO, and Senior Consultant of The Career Leadership Collective and Co-Owner of The Fairs App.

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