When change presents us with uncertainty and the need to do things differently – i.e. learn new skills – we’d much rather side with the status quo. It’s a threat response hardwired into the ancestral parts of our brains: the ‘fight or flight’ survival mechanism, to which ‘freeze’ is sometimes added.
However, if we in recruitment are to survive and prosper, as individuals and as an industry, we need to learn to embrace change and the transitions it entails.
One statistical prediction alone is enough to tell us that. The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) said last year that technology could make almost 40% of Australian jobs redundant in the next 10 to 15 years. The CEDA report added that a further 18.4% of the workforce had a “medium probability” of their jobs being eliminated.
CEDA Chief Executive, Professor Stephen Martin, said the advance of technology had put the world on the cusp of another industrial revolution, and not only low-paid, manual jobs were at risk. Many highly-skilled roles would go as well.
Similarly, Staffing Industry Analysts say that its research suggests that up to 60% of the jobs our industry recruits for may disappear in the next 20 years.
The need to know yourself
So how can we overcome our natural resistance to change and adopt new strategies that will allow us to learn new skills and adapt to the future world of work?
Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott have some interesting views in their new book The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. They say that one of the critical skill sets we must develop is the transformational skills that enable us to build the capacity and the motivation to successfully achieve change and transitions. Essential parts of this are gaining self-knowledge and building diverse networks.
Overcoming our resistance to change begins with self-knowledge, according to developmental psychologist Professor Robert Kegan, who taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for 40 years until his retirement this year.
We have to understand ourselves and the limitations imposed by our current way of thinking, he says. We need to develop new mental models that re-frame the way we see the world and our place in it.
When we learn to do this, we open ourselves up to a whole new range of possibilities and potential. Knowing something of ourselves puts us in a better position to choose a path that provides a sense of purpose in our lives.
The key is learning to recognise and accept the feelings of discomfort for what they are – a natural part of the human condition – but not one that prevents us from making the changes we need to make to grow.
Successful people feel the same sense of anxiety as anyone else. They simply make a choice to move ahead in the presence of those feelings rather than avoid them.
Developing diverse networks is a perhaps surprisingly important part of the change process.
Herminia Ibarra, a professor and economist at INSEAD, which runs graduate business schools in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, has spent the past two decades watching people make transitions. She says that the people closest to you are often the ones most likely to stop you making substantial changes because it upsets their views of themselves and of you.
If you want to make changes to the way you operate, you might like to reflect on who you spend the most time with at work and elsewhere. Are these people motivated and hungry to learn and grow, or are they happy with the status quo?
If it’s the latter, you might like to consider developing more diverse networks of people whose energy will support and encourage your own efforts to change and grow.
Ibarra also notes that change often entails a sense of loss, and is harder and takes longer than we think will be the case.
As recruiters, we will need to make substantial changes to the way we operate. It won’t be easy for many of us, and, yes, it will feel scary at times.
Ultimately we all have a choice to make – feel the fear and still do what needs to be done to adapt, or run away from it.
To maximise your chances of success, surround yourself with a posse of like-minded people who want to take up the challenge. Change can be a difficult journey, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one.