How to Keep Your Team Prepared for Change

An agile workforce can more easily navigate change and turbulence.

How to Keep Your Team Prepared for Change

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Henna Inam, an executive coach, speaker and author, has some helpful advice for organizations grappling with a seemingly endless series of workplace disruptions: Get agile.

“The workforce of the future will have to be much more agile,” says Inam, author of Wired for Disruption: The Five Shifts on Agility to Lead the Future of Work. “Human skills like emotional intelligence, empathy and the creativity to imagine completely new ways of doing things will be in much higher demand. And the people who are agile will more easily adapt to those demands.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest large-scale disruption that has created a reckoning of sorts for many employers. As evidence, consider the so-called Great Resignation — the tidal wave of people who’ve left their jobs in the wake of the pandemic, which left them with more time to ponder their values and personal and professional goals. But more agile workforces can better weather social, political and economic turbulence, which is only going to continue, not abate, Inam says.

“I’m afraid the hits will just keep coming,” she says. “One reason is the pace of technology, which keeps accelerating. Things like artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology are going to drive a lot of fundamental changes across all industries — change the way work gets done and the work that human beings do.”

There is some good news amidst all the mayhem, however: Scientific studies show that people already possess the ability to be agile, which generally is defined as the ability to adjust to changing workplace dynamics.

“I wrote Wired for Disruption to reassure people that agility is already part of our DNA,” Inam says. “All we have to do is exercise those muscles and give people the tools and the confidence they need to not only survive, but also thrive in their jobs.”

Research performed by Dr. Richard Boyatzis, a professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, shows the human brain operates in two neural networks: the analytical and the empathetic. When one is active, the other is dormant, Inam says.

“They act like seesaws,” she says. “In the workplace, most of us usually operate in the analytical neural network, which helps with problem solving. But the research shows that people are most open to change — and being agile — when they’re operating in the empathic neural network, which is a much more relational and collaborative space.

“To be more agile and open to change, we need to spend more time in the empathetic neural network.”

So how does one go about reaching that empathetic state of mind? Some of it starts with self-care in areas such as eating healthy, exercising and getting enough rest. But other kick-starters include compassion, laughter and spending more time in nature.

“You can activate that neural network by being concerned and empathetic for others — and for yourself,” Inam says. “For many people, it involves just being more relational in the workplace … and feeling more relaxed, creative and connected as opposed to stressed out.

“Most of us spend too much time in the sympathetic nervous system than the parasympathetic nervous system. My book explains how to switch that around.”

What are some warning signs that a workforce or an employee isn’t agile? After all, it’s not unusual for managers to convince themselves that everything is fine when the evidence points to the contrary.

“I have an assessment I created that people can take on my website [],” Inam says. “But some telltale signs would include lot of infighting among leadership or rank-and-file employees, as well as lack of trust.

“Stress causes people to be constantly on guard, which diminishes trust. Furthermore, the inability to rapidly adapt to and figure out the new needs of customers or develop new products or services also shows a lack of agility.”

Inam says there are five kinds of agility that organizations — and employees — need to promote. The first is neuro-emotional agility, which is employees’ ability to manage their own neurobiology. This enables them to move from a state of stress to calmness.

“Research shows that if we can activate that parasympathetic nervous system, we can confront changes in much more creative and agile ways,” she says. “It helps people take positive meaning from disruption.”

The second agility centers on the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn. This area is important because if people use old neural patterns to interpret changing workplace dynamics, it prevents them from seeing things clearly and realistically, she says.

“There’s something like 200 biases that prevent us from seeing things as they are, so the key is, how do we clear out those biases so we can adapt to what’s happening in a much more effective way?” she asks.

“The unlearning component is really important here because that allows us to confront our biases — examine our assumptions about things. Otherwise our ‘old’ brain keeps searching for a perfect solution that doesn’t exist.”

Trust agility helps employees and organizations collaborate across ecosystems, which is critical to contending with disruptions.

Another critical area is stakeholder agility, in which senior management takes a critical and objective look at jobs and redefines them — and the skills needed to perform them.

“You need to determine what the future of work looks like and what are the most critical skills, then rescale and upscale your people accordingly,” Inam says.

The last agility component is growth, which requires creating a culture and workplace environment where people can grow.

“It’s important to create new mindsets for employees so that they don’t just survive, but thrive during times of change and disruption.”


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