Written by Christopher Ng
We often hear change is inevitable. This particularly rings true in the current pandemic. We have all switched from full time in the office to full time working at home. Finding motivation and purpose to remain productive became everyone’s new challenge. Leading everyone through this became a priority for leaders.
Although we are well aware change is inevitable, each individuals resilience to change varies. It is only a minority group that tends to react to change in a stable manner as shown by Bareil et al 2007 research.
The physical, as well as the emotional impact of change, should not be underestimated. The longer change takes, the deeper the impact it has on individuals, teams and at an organisational level. This journey of change caused by COVID-19 has been sudden and it feels like it has been a long journey. We all long to see the end of this.
With the recent plan to ease lockdown, we here at the Civil Service College (CSC) are planning to return to the office soon. Will this be the light indicating the end of the tunnel and returning to the normality we are familiar with? Or perhaps the light is only temporarily, and we will be entering another tunnel soon after.
Let us apply the transition curve (also known as change curve and bereavement curve) to the current situation. At the beginning of the lockdown, we enter a ‘shock’ stage. No one foresees this happening. We then enter the ‘denial’ stage thinking that this cannot continue for long. Followed by ‘confusion’ where we think whether we will survive this (metaphorically speaking). Fear, anxiety, worry, and confusion have all taken a toll on us.
“Leadership is about offering vision, giving hope and leading their teams through change.”
Before seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, people feel they are stuck in a valley of despair. As leaders, one ought to help their team to move out of this valley of despair. Leadership is about offering vision, giving hope and leading their teams through change. Priority for leaders is now helping their teams to move from ‘resignation’ stage to ‘exploration’ stage.
For example, we at CSC organised blue-sky thinking sessions for our staff. Collectively, we imagine different possibilities that could happen next. We explored the most optimistic scenario as well as the most feared scenario. It was a really good exercise for colleagues to share their concerns and know that they are not alone. The prolonged feeling of being alone can be detrimental to an individual’s mental health and team cohesion.
“Imagining possibilities and giving a sense of ownership in choosing our desired recovery possibility, helps us to move forward as a team.”
Through hearing everyone’s thoughts, we have a better awareness of their fears and can understand their situation more. It was a great opportunity for leaders to give assurance and give clarity in our collective vision. This is especially important as the direction towards recovery requires everyone’s effort. Imagining possibilities and giving a sense of ownership in choosing our desired recovery possibility, helps us to move forward as a team.
As those of you who are familiar with the transition curve know that movement between stages is not one-directional, it is very possible for people to move from the ‘exploration’ stage back to the ‘resignation’ stage. Hence, through imagining possibilities, people have a chance to be mentally prepared. This should reduce the duration of staying in the ‘resignation’ stage and can quickly mobilise into ‘exploration’ stage again.
Whatever is up ahead and beyond the tunnel, the ability of seeing silver lining in possibilities is essential. Leaders need to empower their teams to imagine .and identify opportunities. It generates excitement and hope as well as a sense of purpose to continue to drive forward. With many uncertainties ahead, energising our teams to prepare for more changes become paramount. This way we are prepared for what is at the end of the tunnel, whether it is leading to another tunnel or a new destination.