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Navigating Change

I’m in the business of anticipating the impact of what’s to come, and planning for complexity as change unfolds. But change is no longer confined to a planned effort or a project. It permeates every fiber of work. Its speed stumps leaders at the highest levels, which then cascades down to everyone else as disruption and ambiguity. Unfortunately, most of us have experienced this unpleasant state of uncertainty.

How does change actually affect people?

Well, we humans take change pretty personally. We are thrilled with unexpected positive change, like a gift or recognition. But we have the exact opposite reaction when we can’t get the answers we need. This uncertainty impacts our reasoning and decision abilities, causes anxiety, increases resistance, and confrontation.

What are the top 5 things we need to know and do in times of change?

There’s a whole science around leading and managing change, but here are a few questions we all need answered in times of change.

“Why is it happening?” (help people make sense of it)

“What will change for me?” (be specific about what will be different in the short term)

“When will I know more?” (if you don’t have answers, commit to getting them by date certain)

“How do I talk about this?” (come up with a plan together; solving and planning for the future)

“Who else is impacted?” (help forge connections and validation so people don’t feel alone.)

Are Millennials better at change than older generations?

Actually, millennials are now in their late 30’s! This group came of age with the internet but many still remember landlines and even rotary phones! As a group, they have been through a lot! And they are going to move into leadership roles in the face of the biggest waves of changes on the horizon. So they better get their “change muscles” ready.

What changes should we expect in the short term?

We can all agree that technology and artificial intelligence will continue to drive change. But we don’t need to wait for robots to fully come online to see that companies are already changing their relationship with employees. It is estimated that nearly 50% of us will be independent contributors in the next 2-5 years.  This means that for freelance, temporary and project-based workers, their employability and responsibility for keeping their skills up to date has is shifted entirely to them. And the rest of us will be the hook for this sooner than later. Lifetime employment is giving way to Life-long Learning.

So we need to learn continuously? And what about full-time employees?

Independents or full-time, we are all facing a “shrinking shelf-life of skills.”  Today the half-life of a professional skill is only five years. So what you learned in school or work today will be only half as useful in five years, or less. Freelancers already know this and stay on top of trends. If you are not a freelancer, keep an eye on your industry innovations, and remember, what your company needs from you today and what you need for your career in the long term, may not be the same thing. Think about it. The same way that the iPod made the Walkman obsolete, technology and innovation will chip away at our knowledge and skills if we aren’t paying attention.

What kind of skills will become important?

As we enter the age of Artificial intelligence, high value will be placed on uniquely human skills: especially the ability to find innovative solutions, to convey vision, and to engage people. People who have a combination of critical thinking and emotional Intelligence (EQ) will always be in high demand, especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. Colleges are already on the lookout for students who demonstrate high levels of EQ. Paradoxically, the smarter our technology, the more time we spend behind our screens, the more these human skills suffer. Say what you will, but we do live in interesting times.



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