Change is a constant in today’s ever-evolving, tech-driven and complex organizational landscape. A simple Google search will turn up over 10 million articles on the issue. But while there is no shortage of content, insights and best practices, the dialogue surrounding change and change management is beginning to sound like a lot of talk and not a lot of action when it comes to addressing its impact on the bottom line – our workforce.
The impact of change on organizations and their people has been so profound that we’ve adopted words like volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) – an acronym used by the American Military to define the state of the post-war world – to label the unpredictable work climates we find ourselves in today. VUCA provides a way for us to speak about change and the need to adapt to it.
When companies design new software, build a new product or develop a new solution to take to market, they will most likely establish a learning strategy to educate and equip their people with the skills and resources they need to successfully deliver in their roles. This idea is also true for organizations integrating a new technology, software or tool. Typically, a careful strategy for learning is implemented to ensure people understand how to use it effectively. Afterall, you wouldn’t just throw it out there and expect people to learn on their own.
If we respond to new products and processes with training and practice, why isn’t the same true for organizational development patterns and trends – like change? It’s new, different and uncomfortable until we are confident that we have the necessary skills to navigate it. It is time we address change in the same way we do anytime we integrate a new protocol or technology. We cannot expect people to seamlessly develop and exhibit new behaviors and attitudes when navigating the VUCA environments in which they find themselves.
Practicing how to respond to uncertainty and adapt to change in the moment are not skills most corporate environments are working to hone in their employees. Not because they don’t recognize the need, but because there aren’t many programs or methodologies that allow people to simulate scenarios where VUCA conditions exist and provide a way to practice resilience and adaptability.
Improvisation – the art of working without a script, adapting in the moment and building something out of nothing – is a novel way to tap into and develop skills such as adaptability and resilience. The field of applied improvisation is a growing industry that is changing the way people lead, create and navigate change. The kind of change that organizations are faced with today is something of a challenge we have not faced before. It is new, uncomfortable, intimidating and, much like adopting a new customer relationship management (CRM) platform, should be integrated in a thoughtful and intentional way.
Using applied improv as an experiential learning methodology aligned with the pillars of VUCA enables learners to practice applying improvisational techniques and tools to shift their behaviors and attitudes in the moment. Here’s how experiential learning and applied improv addresses the VUCA climate we are dealing with in today’s workplace.
Volatility is the quality of being subject to frequent, rapid and significant change. We know that change is constant, fast and difficult. What can we do to condition ourselves to better handle volatile environments?
Improvisation subjects you to frequent, rapid change in a real-time, low stakes environment where all participants are after the same objective, supporting one another and encouraging vulnerability. Improvisational exercises simulate the rapid change people need to familiarize themselves with. Designing experiences where learners can experience change over and over begins to tone the adaptability and resilience muscles.
Uncertainty is a component of any situation in which events and outcomes are unpredictable. Who enjoys not knowing what is going to happen next? Maybe in life, uncertainty presents exciting and spontaneous possibilities – but not so much in business. It is the unknown in any situation that can paralyze us.
Improvisation conditions you to move forward with only what you know and have in that moment and not let fear of the unknown keep you from moving forward. Toning the muscles of resilience and bouncing back from unforeseen outcomes can help individuals deal with uncertainty. It’s about getting comfortable with not knowing what is going to happen next.
Complexity involves a multiplicity of issues and factors, some of which may be intricately interconnected. Ever felt like, if one more unexpected thing hits you out of nowhere, you will lose it? There are so many things coming at you at once in the workplace, moving parts you cannot control and complex issues to deal with. The ability to navigate the complexities and interact with chaos will come in handy.
Improvisation by nature invites chaos and begs you to weave unrelated pieces together with ease and accept all offers thrown at you and treat them as opportunities – even if you don’t understand where they fit. Improv grants participants the ability to take everything offered to them in the moment and not worry about the limitations but instead consider the possibilities.
Ambiguity is characterized by a lack of clarity and difficulty understanding exactly the situation at hand. Business loves its structures, processes and planning. What happens when plans change? We need to rise to the challenge of ambiguity and learn to respond with resilience and adaptability.
Improvisation teaches people that they are enough. They have everything they need to work off-script and respond appropriately and effectively in the moment. Sometimes you fail; sometimes you knock it out of the park. You are okay though because the risk is worth it, and you have two choices: Do something or do nothing. When there is no plan, you learn to lean in and get out of your head.
The time is now to recognize that change is the new normal and is not going away – only increasing in speed and magnitude. Let’s put it in the light it deserves, and give people the tools they need to navigate it effectively. If your organization or clients have not considered a learning strategy for managing change, it may be time for a change.