“And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
-attributed to Anaïs Nin
“The only people who like change are wet babies.”
January is a time many of us make resolutions. In our personal lives, we may aim to be healthier, spend less or pursue a new hobby. At our organizations, as career practitioners, we start our strategic planning process, apply for more funding or develop new programs. There is no shortage of advice this time of year on how to initiate these desired changes. What usually doesn’t make headlines is how to embrace unwanted change – how to survive (and maybe even thrive) during a transformation that may not have been our choice at all.
Recently, many in the employment sector have been experiencing significant change. Several provinces have already undergone radical shifts in the way employment services are delivered, and Ontario is the next to transform. Specifically, the government is suggesting that an integration of social services – namely Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) – with employment services will centralize access for clients, increase effectiveness of service delivery and improve employment outcomes. The Employment Ontario transformation will introduce a service system manager (SSM) that will be responsible for managing government service contracts with a proposed 15 service delivery organizations across Ontario (down from 500). Clients, practitioners, organizations and government will all be affected.
There are many concerns about the transformation, including and not limited to: the impact that the downsizing of employment provision will have on clients, practitioners, organizations and the sector as a result of streamlining. In addition, there are worries that broadened catchment areas and a competitive SSM selection process that is open to private company bids may result in a less localized, needs-based service for the client. (For more information about these and other changes, visit the transformation page at ONESTEP.)
As professionals in the employment field, we coach our clients all the time in dealing with change, offering guidance and hope, especially in the face of job loss or career transition. Change is happening for us now. How can we manage this transformation regardless of how it may affect us?
Here are a few strategies we can use:
1. Thinking about change
Models we use to teach our clients about change can bring helpful awareness to our own situation. For example, Kelley and Conner’s Emotional Cycle of Change model considers the emotional elements of transformation. “Informed pessimism” is a stage marked by negative emotions and may describe how those in our sector feel as we realize the difficulties brought on by transformation. There’s a natural urge to resist change during this stage.
Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change theory helps us determine our readiness for change. At the organizational level, for example, we may be in a contemplative state, uncertain about what to do next. There’s also William Bridges’ book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, which explores the process of change, including endings, neutral middles (which can be distressing), and new beginnings. As practitioners, we may be grieving a kind of ending and find ourselves situated in a stressful middle. Bridges says letting go and moving on to a new beginning first involves an “inner re-orientation and self-redefinition.” It helps to think of our emotions, our readiness for change and our inner re-orientation as common, normal experiences marked by diverse human reactions (anger, sadness, acceptance, excitement). These experiences may be as true at the organizational and sector level as they are at the personal level. Periods of transition also have their own rewards including the potential for growth, innovation and opportunity. Whatever model we choose in order to understand the process of change, the goal might be to know, accept and embrace the stage we’re in as much as possible.
2. Practicing self-care
Embracing a different mindset about change doesn’t negate the need to acknowledge any negative feelings. Since transition can be emotional, it can help to practice regular self-care. On a personal level, that may mean getting rest. Laughing. Eating well. Disconnecting from technology. As practitioners, we can get support by talking to trusted colleagues or a professional if needed. We can breathe. At the sector level, we have organizations like ONESTEP to turn to for information, advocacy and a supportive network.
“Embracing a different mindset about change doesn’t negate the need to acknowledge any negative feelings.”
3. Taking stock
When change happens, we can take a pause and assess. What is happening? What are some potential positive and negative impacts of this change? What are the opportunities for us as a sector? As an organization? As employees? What do we want next? We can take inventory of our skills, acknowledge our strengths, express our values and articulate what we offer in order to be ready for whatever is next.
4. Keeping it in perspective
A colleague described trust as an essential ingredient that helps her keep times of transformation in perspective. We can trust that our sector is responding accordingly to change (we are attempting to change the things we can and learning what we cannot). We can trust that our organizations have a history of surviving change, have expertise greatly needed by our communities and have the fortitude to keep going. Perhaps most importantly, we can trust that as individuals we can survive and even grow from transformation.
5. Making change
Finally, we can invoke change ourselves. We are not immune to unwanted changes but accepting that transformation is happening doesn’t mean we need to be swept away by it. We can choose to be proactive instead of reactive. As an individual and a practitioner, are there skills you want or need to update? Can you expand into new networks and strengthen existing ones? Likewise, within our organizations and sector, what are the strengths we can rely on to succeed in an uncertain future? How will we be innovative and relevant?
Trina Foster, Chief Executive Officer of ONESTEP, summarizes how we can be empowered to become change agents during a time of significant transformation:
“Canada has seen – and will continue to see – new policies and approaches to our workforce development system. As we develop and implement these changes, career development professionals have an important role to play in shaping our future system. We can’t build solutions that work for those we serve without leveraging the experience and expertise of our practitioner community. No one thinks the system we have is perfect; this is an opportunity for professionals in this space to have a voice and help fix those pieces we know aren’t working.”
We are our own client right now. We can coach ourselves to navigate transformation, share our voices and embrace the opportunities.
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