Reflection in action

Nina Paterson, the CSP’s head of learning and development, talks about change: managing it, coping with it and learning from it.

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Beginnings (and endings) always provide a natural point for taking stock so over the holiday season I’ve had some time to look back on 2019. If there’s one word to sum up my year, it would be: change. 

Change

Change can mean so many things. It can be positive and connected to growth – personal or growth of your service or business. Or even a relocation or career progression. In these situations change is something you’ve planned for, or serendipity that you’ve been able to make the most of and is welcome change.

Other times, it’s not always positive, or welcomed. It can be confusing, uncomfortable, even unsettling leaving us without control. 

But actually change is inevitable and, while it might not have been what we’d planned for ourselves or anticipated, when things are changing around us, we can decide how we respond to it.  

We’ve talked about change before in this CPD series – in fact it was within the first ever article I wrote for Frontline back in 2014. In that article, all change first steps new career  the change we focused on was positive. We were discussing career progression and I was sharing the lessons I’d learnt from my recent secondment. It was therefore easy to be upbeat because I was in control of the change.   

In 2019, some of the change I experienced was intentional. I applied for an interim six-month position here at the CSP. You’ll know from the article mentioned above that I enjoy the challenge of stretching myself so when this temporary position came up, I could see that it would allow me to tap into skills and abilities I’d used working for other organisations and allow me to stretch and test myself within this work environment. I was successful and took on the role in June and finished at the end of December. Again giving me a naturally occurring moment to reflect.

Some of the change I experienced wasn’t in my control. What I hadn’t expected was that in the middle of all of this, my entire team, bar one, would change, culminating in my long-standing line manager heading off to take up a position elsewhere. So for around eight months of 2019 I enjoyed a period of transition, particularly while her post was vacant, and then further change as her successor came into post.    

Managing change

It’s normal to feel unsettled, even anxious when there are things outside of your control and all you can do is wait. Thankfully I’m long enough into my career that I’ve been both the cause of change (I’ve been the 
new manager) and on the receiving end of it. So while waiting for my new boss to start, I was able to draw on these experiences to manage my feelings. I set aside some time to read back over reflections I’d written about significant incidents and/or periods in my career that were similar. 

Reflecting on past reflections

In general I tend to use either Gibbs’ ‘learning by doing’ reflective cycle or ‘What So What, Now What?’ or Kolbs’ reflective model. If you’re interested, you’ll find them in CSP’s ePortfolio and you’ll even find some detail about the theory and methodology behind all three. Suffice to say they are the models that I find help provide the structure that I need to help me reflect. As I said I’m long-in-the-tooth so I had plenty to draw from. 

What did I need to remind myself about? 

I knew that anyone coming into that position would automatically bring new ideas, a different perspective, and a new vision. That they would have a different way of working, a different style of managing, and that their priorities might well be different. 

I also anticipated that we’d be navigating this change of direction while building our relationship from scratch. When you have an established relationship like I‘d had for so long you tend to have built up a rapport and crucially a trust – your manager knows what you’re capable of, and they also know your flaws. So those difficult conversations aren’t quite so difficult because you’ve had time to iron out the bumps in your communication style and at the end of the day there is a proven track record in respecting and trusting each other, which is an essential ingredient in any difficult conversation.

It takes time to build that rapport, and that’s okay. It takes any new leader time to set their vision, for you to buy into it and for relationships and trust to build both ways. Which means in the interim you just have to live with it and sit with that uncertainty. This can be uncomfortable, especially if you like to be in control, and who doesn’t?

The great thing about reflecting on my reflections is that I’m not relying on my memory which can often come with a set of rose-tinted glasses. Looking back this way, I can see situations and my own strengths and weaknesses in black and white. I can remind myself quite how long professional relationships take to build and the time it takes to for rapport to be built – either as the person trying to bring about the change or vice versa. Looking back like this was a valuable activity for me…wow have I been impatient with myself at times!   

I needed to identify my goals and actions

Before my new boss had even started, I decided that I would embrace the coming changes and then looked to see what or where I would need to put something into place to keep me on track.  

My actions were straightforward to identify – mostly they were attitudinal. I needed to trust and accept that there will be bumps along the way. 

Knowing that you need to, and doing it are two different things which is where the actions come in. I therefore identified what in my toolkit was going to help. So I made a list:

1 Reread my reflections 

While it was essential to draw on them at the beginning of the exercise to help me identify my strengths and weaknesses, I knew not to put the files away just yet.  I will need reminding along the way so I kept them 
to hand. Especially those reflections where I was the new manager. By looking at how hard I have found it to usher in a new approach or a different way of thinking, and rereading my mistakes as I went about it, I was in the right frame of mind to support my new boss as she does the same. 

2 Keep up with my mindfulness meditation

I started this a couple of years ago after going on a leadership development course. I’ve talked about it before - mostly about my surprise at how useful I find these techniques. So I dug out some great guided meditations for my app about balance, control and change.

3 Time with my mentor 

When we’re in our own heads, it is easy to get things skewed so an objective outside viewpoint is always worth drawing upon.

4 Be open and vulnerable 

Sometimes the biggest barrier to asking for support is thinking you’ve failed, or worrying that others will think you have. I can’t imagine for one minute thinking that about a colleague if they asked me for help so I had to trust my colleagues wouldn’t either.

I also made the decision to carry on being open and vulnerable with my new boss when she started. Building a professional relationship requires trust, so you just have to dive in.

5 Take time to rest, eat and sleep well 

Anyone who has vacancies will know that work doesn’t simply go away. But I’m no use to anyone if I burn out because I didn’t ask for help or take care of myself.

6 Take others with me on my journey

I’m a manager myself and have a responsibility to those I manage to embrace change and role model these attitudes. In order to do that I need a level of vulnerability. It’s okay to empathise and positively share from your own experience. I knew I wouldn’t be the only one feeling uncertain, so I started to plan for how to support others through this as well.  

7 Make the most of it

I started this article talking about intentional change being positive. Unforeseen change doesn’t have to be negative. We often use a rollercoaster analogy to talk about change - rollercoasters are by their nature scary and yet we willingly put ourselves on them. Why? Because they are worth the ride! 

Putting it into practice

So how is it going? Well I’ve needed reminding to take care of myself and I’ve had to actively remind myself that it’s okay to ask for help. But I knew they’d be my Achilles heel so it’s good to know my preparation had accurately identified my weaknesses.

And with my new boss? We’re only a few weeks in so just at the start of our working relationship but one thing 
I am sure about is that it will be worth the ride.

Change of any kind can and should bring about personal growth. You never know what that’s going to be but that’s part of the fun. My new boss is asking a lot of questions. She wants to figure out what’s working and what isn’t. She has her eye on changes she wants to make, drawing on her experiences elsewhere or using this new start as a chance to implement ideas she’s not had a chance to try yet – and that’s all good. I know I would be doing the same. 

So having made the decision to trust, I’m making the most of this unexpected shakeup. After all, a fresh pair of eyes on what you’re doing is always good. It’s another chance to assess strengths, weaknesses and areas to grow. This will make for some great professional development for 2020. 

Nina’s actions…

  1. Continue to learn from reflections
  2. Meditate
  3. Take care of myself
  4. Connect with mentor
  5. Be open and vulnerable 
  6. Be a role model
  7. Enjoy the ride!

CPD activity

I said at the start of this article that change is inevitable and while you might not be experiencing the same type of change - working in today’s climate you are going to experience change this year. Therefore the CPD activity this time is simple - bookmark this article for later in the year. Come back when you need it.

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