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Transitioning, Under Pressure … or Voluntarily

Issue 52: April 21, 2022

Does this sound familiar? You have spent most of your professional life perfecting who you are and have chosen to become. It’s a significant investment to fine-tune a life that conforms to your beliefs, hopes and dreams. Then wham! You have become marginal, or even worse, irrelevant. Suddenly (although it was gradual in coming if you had been paying attention) you have to reinvent yourself. This turning point is happening for both young and veteran professionals after a forced transition as organizations reorganize, pivot, change or seek holistic transformation. It always seems that even any change for the better leaves many in its wake trying to clear the water from their eyes to see how they must redefine themselves, or more dramatically, how they must reinvent themselves to remain relevant. For others who are prescient, they make a proactive, voluntary pivot to stay in the game and contribute in a meaningful way.

Becoming the Change, You Need to Make

Change is hard, especially when we have become so wedded to our professional (or personal) self-image and the role we play. We define ourselves and our self-worth with the perceptions we form on what is expected of us and how we are to be measured. The inputs we internalize feed into how we think and expend energy. We want to be liked (well, at least most do) and we want to be recognized for our performance. Those motivations drive our behavior, relationships and goals.

We are resistant to forced change, particularly if we don’t know what we may lose in the process. Ambiguity, for most, creates stress and anxiety as we reshape the mental construct of our role and expectations. We seek to hold onto what was, even when we have to change overnight via a reorganization, reassignment of responsibility, or even worse, we were transitioned out of a professional role in an organization.

If we are lucky, we may be assigned more responsibility and an elevated role. Even then, the gains positively communicated from leadership are secondary when faced with the anxiety of change under pressure and laced with ambiguity.

In today’s marketplace, change is the only constant, yet we believe that we can walk in a place and still be competent and skilled in mastering the change around us. As humans, we don’t like change, particularly change that seeks to redefine who we are supposed to be with newly assigned work.

Face the real facts: McKinsey estimates that by 2030, 375 million workers globally and more than 30% of the total workforce in the US will need to change jobs or upgrade their skills significantly. We continue to operate in a highly dynamic marketplace where technology-infused change and yes, transformation, will continue to change our roles and definitions of ourselves.

“The pattern of technological innovations and disruptions repeats itself and its speed is ever increasing. As we enter this new era of sped-up digital transformation, we all need to learn this new skill (how to transition and how to reinvent) to some degree in our daily lives.” according to author Somi Arian.

The reality is that we need to rethink our game plan and potentially reskill ourselves to remain relevant. The most obvious example of dissonance or disconnect in the workplace is the rapid evolution of technology. Gen Alpha, who isn’t even in the workforce yet, has more intuitive tech knowledge than their slightly older generational cohorts. Magnify that by a thousand and you have the anxious state of mind of older workers who were well into their careers in the pre-smartphone era.

One could argue that every organization is a tech company. We have become so dependent on data, analytics and tech apps and platforms. And here’s the rub: Tech is typically a younger person’s domain. Think about all the kids who grew up playing video games on phones in their strollers and you get a general idea.

And there’s another dimension to the need for reinvention, also prompted by younger workers’ values and ethos. Here’s is just a sampling of what is now antiquated at work: command-and-control management, strict hierarchies, siloed organizational models, lack of diversity and inclusiveness, living to work, email (instead of group communications platforms), lack of environmental and sustainability goals, and just about everything analog.

Transitioning, Under Pressure … or Voluntarily

It goes without saying that no change can occur without the will to change. However, in an organizational context, one member of the workforce is not directing the change. In fact, they are often a marginal part of the equation. Leadership often covets and holds the power of change. A small circle of individuals sworn to confidentiality are in the know as they are deemed necessary for proper execution. The day comes, the magic wand is waved, and the expectation is that everyone will enthusiastically fall in line.

It’s an interesting dynamic at play when leaders make assumptions that everyone (or those who are still left) will quickly understand and embrace their new definitions and how their revised or new roles are defined. That assumption overlooks the necessary process every individual must go through to transition, recognizing what was lost and then understanding what was gained. This includes an acceptance of what needs to be forgotten, replaced or simply left behind. Humans require social processing time to internalize what they heard, listen to what others heard, and then reformulate a redefined reality.

When individuals are forced to change, the process individually as well as organizationally is exponentially harder. We do need to recognize that each and every organization is similar to the natural order of systems that must evolve to survive. Nothing can stay the same forever; it defies the laws of survival.

At 2040, we have coached our clients through change and have developed a matrix of issues that need to be addressed before change can even start. Resilience is an underlying attitude and skillset needed to move through transitions and achieve reinvention. And all change must start with the individual.

Stage One

The human factor drives all transitions … and holds us back. Even the greatest leader and business theorist is dead in the water without support. And as humans, we tend to be pretty predictable in how we respond to change – emotionally and functionally. Take some time to explore a variety of newsletter issues over the past 52 weeks including leading with courage, shared knowledge, managing transitions, and more.

  • Anxiety

Change, especially forced externally, triggers a cascade of personal emotions not unlike a professional version of the seven-stage grief curve. Shock and denial are followed by pain and guilt. Anger then manifests followed by depression and reflection all with the potential for achieving a true deep transition that begets possible reinvention. An upward turn and then reconstruction ultimately lead to acceptance and hope. This isn’t a new-age business theory; we have seen it in all individuals when facing transition when we lose a family member, experienced divorce or any other personal change. Awareness of this emotional roller coaster is essential in managing the journey. Transcending all feelings is anxiety about what one may lose without knowing what will replace it, both positively and negatively. Creating stability during the transition will ease the process, but don’t mistake stability for getting too comfortable, which can lead to an inability to see what needs to change.

  • Intention

An intention is how you feel about outcomes. I want to change is a goal. I want to feel more in touch with my professional field, new technologies, data, etc. are intentions. Set your intentions for yourself clearly and honor those statements throughout the transition process. Intentions should be your North Star in effective change and the power behind your goals.

  • Letting Go

Clinging to an unworkable self-identity is self-limiting. All change is evolutionary for it to become sustainable. It requires critical mass to move ahead and letting go of a past that no longer works is the major step forward. In the process of letting go, the empty space will be filled with a sense of discovery and the transition journey. Historian Yuval Noah Harari comments that if workers traditionally “built identities like stone houses with very deep foundations, it now makes more sense to build identities like tents that you can fold and move elsewhere. Because we don’t know where you will have to move, but you will have to move.”

Stage Two

Build an individual architecture structure for change. Arian describes this structure as “Transition Architects are people with an immense level of flexibility and speed that will twist and bend under any circumstances. These are people who get back up before they fall, don’t get discouraged by failure, accept the reality as it is, and pivot where needed. Transition Architects are tech-savvy and yet emotionally intelligent. They are present, they don’t complain and have a solution-focused attitude.”

The tech-era mantra that most individuals need is to adapt to ever-present change. We may master one discipline or new role, but only six months later find that we have to reinvent ourselves once again. Pivoting relates to learning new tricks or even lifelong learning as we need to explore new areas of interest that our rigid minds overlooked when we were rooted in a staid definition of ourselves and our roles. A positive approach is to remain open, pick up new skills along the way and find that reinvention can become our choice not a dictate thrust upon us. One must be able to ride the waves, some larger than others, always knowing more waves are coming. If you boogie board or surf, you know that by repositioning the board just right, you are rewarded with stimulating new experiences that can change your perception and spark reinvention.

  • Identify the Change You Want to Make

Use objective field reports, peer discussions, and even deep dives into search to analyze and identify why you want to change and what that will entail. You can trust your instincts, but rational data is a more reliable source to inform successful transition and your path to reinvention. Think of your transition as an evolution, not a full-scale revolution. Intelligent, incremental steps reinforce the process and preparation. The most important aspect is to ensure that what you are thinking of exploring is of personal and professional interest. One outcome of the pandemic has been a deep reflection of the value and nature of work, and many career loyalists realized they were not fulfilled and had lost the passion for their work and loyalty.

  • Redefine

It takes determination to develop a new definition. But remain flexible, because as we have noted, change is ever-present — even faster in today’s terms. In your journey, accept that not every path is worthy, nor will you find the right route every time. You should also remain open-minded so you don’t so rigidly define where you want to go that you overlook opportunities as they appear. We often limit ourselves when we overly structure our path and reject work or experiences that don’t fit nicely in our preconceived box.

  • Education

Successful individuals tend to be lifelong learners. Enter any transitional journey by being well-educated. Be curious. Study your profession and the marketplace to be well-informed by emerging trends, tech solutions and potential opportunities that will inform your transition.

  • Refuel and Recalibrate

We cannot control the circumstances of our lives, but we can certainly control how we respond to them. Things change quickly, and it takes resilience and agility to address transitions and consider or determine a path for reinvention. Transition and reinvention can be liberating and energizing. You don’t have to feel like a victim if you missed key trends, didn’t listen to feedback or ignored the warning signs. It’s an opportunity to reinvent and accept that failure is the most powerful way to learn and change.

  • Stay the Course

Keep track of your progress guided by your core values. Follow a roadmap to keep on course. Author Lyn Christian suggests:

    • In which areas have you succeeded?
    • What small victories have you had since you began your path to transition?
    • What challenges have you faced along the way?
    • What have you learned from those challenges?
    • In which areas would you like to improve?
    • Have any of your core values, strengths, and goals shifted along the way?
    • Do you need to refocus your reinvention to new directions?

• Seek Help

Create a support group. Bring in an expert to coach you through change. An objective third party can help you dig deeply into systemic barriers to change and identify what’s holding you back. Partnerships and collaborations can be key in leapfrogging through a transition. Connections with context to your goal can move you more quickly. A note of caution: Do not try to replicate what others have done. Your transition must be authentic. Copycat transitions are never successful.

Change for Good

At 2040, we work with clients to help them manage change – organizationally and professionally. We have assisted leaders and managers face transitions positively for themselves and their teams. We know how to get unstuck and can help you find the right pathway for your reinvention and transition to a successful, profitable and fulfilling future.

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