Why Business Leaders Must Help Individuals Embrace and Navigate Change

Advisory | Glenn L. Friedman | Jan 07, 2021

About 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” He famously asserted that “life is flux,” Panta Rhei in Greek, which means all things change.

Rather than viewing change as a nuisance or an uncomfortable fact of life, Heraclitus believed change is life itself, an essential part of our existence. Heraclitus said opposing forces that both pull away from each other and come together are a natural part of life, yet humans typically resist change and cling to that which is known and feels safe.

To be clear, he never said change was easy. He did say, however, that nothing in life is permanent, so we as humans should accept and embrace change.

Thousands of years later, individuals at every level of an organization still struggle with change. They tend to be pulled towards the status quo. This desire to have things remain the same is one of the biggest challenges facing senior leadership.

Changes Faced by Your Company’s Team

On one end of the spectrum, you have people whose jobs, or at least a portion of their responsibilities, are being replaced by technology. Perhaps those jobs and responsibilities are being outsourced. Technology and outsourcing, when managed well, typically result in tasks being performed more effectively, more cost-efficiently, and with fewer errors.

Thanks to artificial intelligence, just about every area of an organization has some tasks that can be automated or enhanced with technology. The same goes for outsourcing. You can outsource certain job functions of virtually any department, from accounting and IT to human resources and marketing.

Most people are inherently resistant to these kinds of changes. At the very least, change will disrupt their routine. It forces them to do something new or do the same thing differently. They would much rather continue with what is familiar and comfortable.

Resistance to change isn’t particularly helpful, but it’s understandable. Refusal to change could cost someone their job.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have senior partners who are approaching retirement. You would think this is a happy time that everyone would look forward to after a long, successful career. In reality, the thought of retirement brings feelings of stress and anxiety for many people who are ready to call it a career.

Think about it. Suppose you’ve been a workaholic, working 40-60 hours per week for 40-50 years. You self-identify with your industry, organization, and title. You have close relationships with co-workers and clients. You’ve earned a certain status and respect inside and outside the company.

That’s a lot to give up, a lot of time to fill, and a lot of fulfillment to replace.

It might sound like heaven to wake up whenever you want and do whatever you want, but this is a massive change for partners I know who are nearing retirement. Even if someone is financially secure and has control over the changes that lie ahead, there is still a tremendous amount of uncertainty.

This is why so many senior executives choose to work into their 70s and 80s. Work gives them a sense of purpose, and they don’t know if they’ll be able to find a similar purpose when they retire.

How Leaders Can Help Teams Deal with Change

My wife has a saying about the lead dog’s perspective compared to the rest of the pack. Despite constant change, the view doesn’t change for the dogs in the back. The lead dog, on the other hand, can see what’s coming. The lead dog needs to see, anticipate, and prepare for change and take action in a way that benefits the rest of the team and outsourcing as opportunities to cut costs, empower your team with new skills and knowledge that can benefit them as individuals and the organization.

For those retiring partners, provide coaching and counseling to help them transition into a new phase of life. Help them identify opportunities that provide fulfillment and a sense of purpose outside the office.

By anticipating and responding effectively to change, leaders can turn change from obstacle to opportunity.

One reason why Prager Metis created the position of Chief Strategic Innovation Officer was to establish a culture of innovation that not only allows us to better serve our clients, but also support the growth of each member of the Prager Metis team.

We’re constantly looking for new ways to expand the skills and cultivate the talents of individuals as they take on new roles, advance in their careers, and look ahead toward retirement.

The People Are the Organization

From an organizational perspective, those that effectively evolve will succeed. Those that don’t will fail. That’s a given.

Just look at Blockbuster and Netflix. Blockbuster could have been Netflix but chose to continue to be Blockbuster. The last remaining Blockbuster in Oregon is now allowing tourists to have sleepover parties at its store. Although this is a clever tactic for this particular store, the Blockbuster model is all but obsolete.

Meanwhile, Netflix has evolved into, well, Netflix. They set the standard for on-demand streaming by anticipating change and taking action effectively.

While organizational change is much more likely to make headlines, never discount the human element. If an organization is going to evolve, its people have to be willing and able to change.

Business leaders must take steps to reduce the fear, apprehension, and uncertainty that tend to surround change, whether an individual is asked to shift responsibilities, a junior accountant is promoted to senior, or a senior partner is approaching retirement.

Change is the only constant in life and in business. Whether change is viewed as a steady stream of obstacles or opportunities is up to you

Sticking with the status quo and having a “we’ve always done it this way” mindset is a recipe for failure. Leaders need to anticipate change when possible, respond effectively when necessary, and recognize how change affects real people.

Helping individuals navigate change requires communication and trust. It requires empathy. It might require proof or data that shows why change is necessary.

Change definitely requires training and education for individuals whose responsibilities are being replaced or modified due to technology or outsourcing. Instead of viewing technology


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