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"Survival of the Finest in the 21st Century"
By Christine Corelli   Printer Friendly Version

If there's one word that captures America's movement into the next century, it's "change." As we move into the 21st century, we've seen a global economy emerge that is characterized by rapid change, technological and scientific breakthroughs, a more multi-cultural and liberal society, and an unprecedented level of competitiveness in business. Takeovers, mergers, downsizing, and reorganization are the norm with organizations in every industry today.

It is technology that is most dramatically changing our world. Because of modern technology we now live and work in an era of knowledge, information overload, and speed, where our lives are now choreographed to move, work, learn, and finish projects faster - all to service the "customer" who has become more demanding than ever. Executives are calling for us to get "lean and mean" and "do more with less" - so that they cannot only survive, but be able to move forward. They are constantly restructuring and instituting change in the insatiable race for growth.

For engineers, who in the past have been accustomed to working on their own, must now be a player in a "high-performance team," and are expected to not only embrace change, but come up with creative ideas and solutions to problems that don't fall under their job description. Many are finding this difficult, as they are used to having things the "way they used to be." Through it all, loyalty, hard work and engineering expertise no longer guarantee a job for life.

How are many of us affected? We are experiencing the erosion of stability and security and all too often, feeling pressured to perform. Business structures have changed so dramatically, organizations and engineers are asking, "How do we survive?"

If we are to survive, it is critical to learn to cope with change. Many people feel totally unconnected to the new reality that is around them, and are working with others who are displaying the stress and often chaos that is involved in change transitions. It can be helpful to understand the basic five phases most people experience in adapting to change - whether it is a new role they must play - a new skill they must learn, a merger, restructuring, new management, or a new way of doing things.

Five phases most people experience in adapting to change:

1. Resistance. Comes from fear.

Most people are basically creatures of habit. They may resist change because it can mean coming out of their comfort zone and perhaps risking failure. You can recognize resistance easily as people will criticize, complain, withdraw, or become unsupportive of others. There may be loud vocal protests, or, they will appear to "do what they have to do" to keep their job, but they will not do more than is required.

2. Uncertainty. How will it affect me? Can I handle it? How will things change? Will the change really be good for the company?

Will I lose my job?Most individuals will be uncertain about their ability to do what has been asked of them. They may be concerned with whether they will be able to perform and may be having difficulty with new procedures, technology, or skills they must learn. Worse, they will suspect that perhaps their jobs may be on the line. Some will express negativity as to whether the changes that have been made will really benefit the company. They may wonder "What's in it for me?" Productivity may be reduced, and creativity is hampered.

3. Assimilation. Acceptance - a little at a time, one day at a time.

As people begin to move from resistance to assimilation they begin to gradually implement change. Slowly, they begin to try. They cease complaining, and begin to adjust to what is required. Unfortunately, moving from resistance and uncertainty to assimilation does not occur overnight. The one factor that often is overlooked when implementing change is the time needed to learn. All change takes time.

4. Integration.

Integration occurs when people have begun to accept the changes. Confidence builds while learning and adjustments have taken place. They may make suggestions to help...

5. Acceptance.

Acceptance is the final stage of adaptation to change. You will be able to see that when people have reached the acceptance stage, they appear less stressed and become more supportive.

We've heard the old adage before, "The only constant is change." Yes, change is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be agonizing. If you recognize the five stages that people go through to assimilate change, you can help facilitate the process.

Here are a few things you can do to help others through change:

  1. Encourage acceptance of change and help others to see positive opportunities.
  2. Lead by example. Keep an optimistic attitude. Offer to help people if they are struggling.
  3. Be attuned to the difficulties others may have in adapting to change. Change affects everyone differently.
  4. Be patient. All change takes time for adjustment.

Here are a few things we can do:

  1. Use positive self-talk
  2. Focus on your strengths.
  3. Bend with the whirlwind of change.
  4. Keep your life in balance.

We must be willing to adapt to change. For many people, when it comes to surviving in the 21st century, their biggest problems in coping are internal. Change can be positive, promoting our own personal and professional development.

Charles Darwin taught us about "Survival of the Fittest." Today, it is not only the strongest who will survive but also those who are the most adaptable. Those who are resilient, and can adapt to change will not only survive, but also thrive in the new millennium. I call it - "Survival of the Finest in the 21st Century"

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