Story and photos by Jen Neville
What does it mean to be resilient? The newly certified change advisors and several Leadership Emergence and Development Program participants tackled this question during their training July 30 through Aug. 3 in Lakewood, Colorado.
Throughout the week, the group immersed itself in learning how to lead change and manage transitions, practicing with the methods and tools WAPA uses to support employees working through changes. By the end of the week, the change advisors were teaching the material.
Communication drives change
“We have lots of people working on different projects and programs making critical business decisions to keep WAPA moving forward,” said Civil Rights Attorney Advisor Kischa Cook. “Sometimes we get so caught up in the project, we forget to factor in the impact the change has on staff. That’s where I see this program and the change advisors making the difference.”
Cook believes communication lays the foundation for introducing change.
“It’s human nature to fill in the gaps when information is missing – usually with the worst-case scenario – which leads to unnecessary feelings of fear and anxiety,” she said. “It is important to help manage the emotions associated with change through communication. When people understand why, it helps them transition to a place where they can support the change and adjust to the new circumstances. Open communication is a large part of moving the project along.”
Transition is a journey
During the training, participants learned the difference between change and transition. Specifically, change is an event, whereas transition is a journey. It is the internal, psychological reorientation a person goes through from the time the change happens to when he or she begins to adapt.
“The change advisors will be here to help project managers identify problem areas where we need additional communication or to slow down and rethink how a project is rolled out,” Cook said. “We are interested in creating a workplace in which we engage employees in change and help people through the transition.”
“People tend to think about change as happening externally, or happening around them. However, individual change is happening all the time, for yourself and for others in the organization,” said Natural Resource Specialist Melissa Ardis. “It’s not just about change outside. It’s about the internal process to go from what was to what will be. And we are better at adapting to change than we think!”
Whether it’s moving to a new home, learning a new process, or even adjusting to phone upgrades, people transition all the time.
“We need to give ourselves time to work through the transition,” said Ardis. “When organizational changes happen, employees feel they have to get on board right away. Although we need to support the mission and get the job done, there is still time to for us to process and adjust to change. We can work through change without losing our own value.”
Managing change entails balancing your abilities, personal growth and attitude.
“People prefer to work with you when you are open and willing to adjust rather than stubborn and grumpy,” said Upper Great Plains Electrical Engineer Pedro Barrios. “We must keep a positive attitude toward changes in life and at work. Change is a natural part of life, so we must learn how to deal with it.”
“I am more analytical about how I handle my workload,” continued Barrios. “Through this class I discovered that sometimes I postpone things that I don’t know how to do, because it takes time to learn the new format or procedure. Now I realize that it’s better to face the new way of doing things rather than avoid it.”
Support throughout WAPA The change advisors are now certified to teach and provide consultation on projects. Through this program, WAPA can better address the impact of change on people.
“I wish I had taken this class sooner, both personally and professionally,” said Ardis. “It gave me permission to move through the transition, and gave me a better understanding of what I am experiencing throughout the change process.”
Note: Neville is a public affairs specialist.
Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel helps the change advisors
prepare for their roles in the organization.
Through trainings such as this, WAPA develops employee resilience to
Change advisors gather and work together during a five-day course on
organziational change management.