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Talent Development Leader

Change Your Mindset Around Change

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

In a literal sense, change can be defined as a shift in our environment. However, change is more complex than a simple definition. ATD’s webinar Change the Way You Talk About Change, sponsored by Talent Development Leader and moderated by Ann Parker, aimed to reframe the conversation around change. On the panel were Michelle Braden, VP of global talent development at WEX Inc.; Mike Prokopeak, director of learning and council content at Ragan Communications and PR Daily; and Angela Stopper, chief learning officer at UC Berkeley. These three field experts broke down their definitions of change, how change affects the L&D space, and ways everyone can approach change with a new, open mindset.

Defining Change and Its Purpose

Change is all around us, affecting every aspect of our lives. Change occurs in our personal lives, within our organizations, and on a global scale. Changes are both small and mundane and large and extraordinarily influential. How we define change provides insight into how we deal with change.


Braden defined change as adapting to new environments and circumstances. “It’s about growth. We can’t grow without change. We can’t make progress moving forward without change,” she said.

“It’s something that we’re all feeling in all aspects of our lives,” agreed Prokopeak. “This isn’t just work. This is outside of work, but it’s also so critical to what we’re trying to do as organizations. Because we’re trying to continually grow our organizations, we’re trying to continue to grow the individuals within our organizations.” Stopper’s definition of change focused on how it affects us. She said that the idea of change fatigue should be retired, because change will never slow down nor stabilize. The idea that there will be a break from change prevents people from building adaptability to change.

The panelists agreed that change is one of the biggest strengths for an organization. Those who can successfully leverage change will find new opportunities. Though change is natural, humans are biologically resistant to it. Organizations have become averse to change in the same way. That’s where learning and development steps in to help make sense of change and harness its power for growth. The people who can be nimble and learn through change will be the ones who deal with it the best.

L&D teams are in a unique role to enable leaders to deal with change resistance and fatigue. This is a layered challenge, starting with an individual and expanding to the company. This is one reason it’s essential that talent development professionals have a voice at the table; they can serve as the connective tissue when it comes to change and bring in experts to fill in the gaps.

Strategy in Change

People like certainty and stability, and change is disruption. It creates feelings of loss and fear, so it’s critical to develop a clear strategy for facing change. Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate because people may form false narratives without clear and consistent communication. Bring in empathy experts for support and make a space for people to ask questions.

“Everyone wants a crystal ball, like what’s going to happen tomorrow,” said Braden. “The world doesn’t work that way, but that’s what we want.”

Negative feelings toward change could be exasperated by a poor strategy. Something that could have been simple to address suddenly becomes a larger issue because people feel unprepared for the future.

“If you’re not building a sustainable way forward and you’re constantly chasing that next shiny thing—that can be really unappealing to people,” said Stopper.

Your strategy should start with the “why” of the change as knowing the why makes people more receptive to viewing change positively. Prokopeak said it’s important to focus on who the messenger of change is going to be. People are more likely to trust their direct leader, so train these leaders to deliver change effectively.

Braden said that in her experience, toolkits that target people’s habits have been useful. These toolkits cascaded information and expectations shifted as the change was gradually introduced.

Stopper emphasized encouraging people to own their work and ability to deal with change head-on. This can be done by educating people on the power of habits and habit breaking, talking about the neuroscience behind change, and building time for people to experiment with the change.

Practical change skills that industry leaders should bolster include consulting skills, speaking and communication skills, and empathy skills. Storytelling is one useful tool to help create a palatable narrative that the people experiencing change can buy into. Leaders might think about the influence of the language they use, too. For example, instead of calling someone a “change agent,” one might refer to them as an “influencer.” Instead of using the phrase “change fatigue,” a leader can reframe that exhaustion as simply “fatigue.”

“I think the language shouldn’t so much be about the abstract as it should be about the day to day of what people are doing in their teams,” said Prokopeak. “And the more we can bring change down to that level and give people the tools to have that sort of conversation, I think the more successful it will be because people will again see ‘what’s in it for me.’”

Talent development leaders can reinforce the skills that their employees will need: agility and flexibility, resilience and courage, and commitment and accountability. They might personalize the change by providing feedback and asking for feedback in return. And they can empower people to move past change as a negative and see the potential growth for themselves.


Final Charge

After two breakout sessions in which attendees discussed their experiences around change and what they do to navigate it, the panelists provided their final words of advice.
Braden: “We need to teach our leaders to balance patience with urgency. When you think about it, people want things to happen today, but they also need to be patient because experiments take time, and it reduces the risk over time. In the end, you’re going to achieve more, but it may take a little bit longer to get that.”

Prokopeak: “Stop talking about change in the abstract and talk about it in the practical. And that involves what’s in it for me, what’s in it for the individual, and really supporting the people who are having those conversations. It’s going to be the biggest investment of L&D’s time and energy, because that’s the thing that’s going to drive the change that we’re talking about.

Stopper: “Every one of us has the ability to influence the area that we’re in, the business that we’re in, the organization that we’re in, and the people that are around us. Grab those opportunities and bring them to the people in your professional sphere so that you can influence the world to move in a way that you think will be beneficial. And you know what, if your professional sphere isn’t big enough, start building a plan to expand that professional sphere so that you do have a voice in those conversations and that you do have relationships because regardless of where we are, regardless of what we’re doing, relationships matter. People knowing people is how we get work done.”

Read the full webinar transcript here.

Read more from Talent Development Leader.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

1 Comment
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I like this comment, "the idea of change fatigue should be retired, because change will never slow down nor stabilize". This is indeed a true statement because change is ongoing, we do not stop once a change is implemented. My purpose in making a change is to work toward best practice.
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