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Increase Your Personal Resilience to Change

by Deborah Hartmann Preuss on Jul 10, 2006 |
Kent Beck's seminal Agile book, Extreme Programming bears the oft-quoted subtitle: "Embrace Change".  Small businesses unable to do this disappeared from view in 2000, and now businesses large and small prudently acknowledge the need to be responsive to the reality of rapid, unforseen changes in markets and technologies.

As if this were not enough, the very effort of shifting to Agile introduces yet more change. It can be stressful to let go of old habits, to risk trying out the new, sometimes counter-intuitive patterns recommended by Agile trainers and writers.  Some team members do better under these circumstances than others.  Resilience may be one characteristic distinguishing those who thrive from those who struggle with change.

Bob Weinstein, in his article The Resilience Factor on the Gantthead Project Management site, quotes psychologist Al Siebert of the ResiliencyCenter.com:
"Highly resilient people are best suited for a world of constant change.  They don't fight against disruptive change because they adjust to new situations quickly.  They accept change and deal with it.  Resilient people's flexibility and adaptability lets them adjust their responses to achieve positive outcomes in new situations."
He goes on to talk about some basic steps which a team member can take to increase their own resiliency in the face of change. Briefly, these three steps are:
  • Create a personal plan to optimize your emotional health.
  • Problem-solve, instead of becoming overwhelmed and stuck.
    • Siebert identifies three kinds of problem-solving: Logical, Creative and Practical.
  • Master the three mind-body dimensions, which determine how resilient you are:
    • Self-confidence,
    • Self-esteem and
    • Self-concept
Al Siebert has studied highly resilient survivors for over thirty years. He is author of the new book The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back From Setbacks. Siebert says "Lean, customer driven, agile corporations are having difficulties finding qualified employees. The school systems are not graduating students prepared for employment in excellent, constantly changing corporations."

Team members: there is no need to wait for "the team" to resolve all their hang-ups - adding resilience to your own list of traits can make you better able to contribute your own strengths to solving those team problems.

Leaders: the short modern parable Who Moved My Cheese? may provide a way to raise the topic in the workplace, opening the door for opportunities to mentor struggling individuals.  For those serious about making the shift, it may then be useful to make them aware of the resources available to them.

Then again, there will always be those who moan "I didn't sign on for all this", who dig in their heels and undermine the change effort.  Some of these invariably leave, but others will hang on, demoralizing the team.  It may be necessary to help these people realise that their "cheese" has moved entirely elsewhere. Fortunately, it's a job-hunter's market right now...

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engaging people in change by Michael Burke

Often, I think it's not the nature of the changes themselves but the way that they're implemented and handed down that creates problems. Often no attempt is made to engage or consult the people who will be bearing the brunt of change and that can easily lead to feelings of disenfranchisement and passive and active resistance. You can't just tar any objectors as people with 'hang ups'.

People in larger companies are all too used to change for change's sake (usually due to a change in management). Rather than just 'Embracing Change' perhaps we should 'Question change. Don't embrace it uncritically'.

Somehow, I don't think telling everyone who's unhappy to 'Create a personal plan to optimize your emotional health' and 'develop your self-concept' is going to do the trick.

Honestly, does anyone besides management consultants, bloggers and book authors (err, sorry, 'though leaders') take this stuff seriously?

Re: engaging people in change by Deborah Hartmann

I agree, Michael. Change that is handed down doesn't sound very Agile, does it? In a perfect world, we'd be engaging those who a) have a problem and b) want to change it. I've yet to see it look exactly like that, though :-)

Even on a team that "wants to change" there is no guarantee that every member feels the same about specific changes, if they are made by concensus rather than unanimity...

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