Sunita Mutha, MD FACP
Professor of Clinical Medicine
Director of the Center for the Health Professions
University of California, San Francisco
These days nearly every conversation ends up being about change; how much change is going on, how unpredictable and unsettling it is, all the opportunities that are arising, and how great the need is to find ways to navigate the change. This month’s newsletter is full of examples of the change that are afoot for the human capital in our delivery systems—roles of new health workers, changing roles and practices of existing health care professionals and growing evidence to inform workforce planning.
Conversations about change also touch on the fact that the new ideas, projects, and initiatives are coming fast and furious and that each one takes energy, and there is only so much energy each of us has to give. Inevitably, this leads to a discussion about change fatigue, which is marked by apathy—not enough energy to defend the status quo or to engage in the change that is happening.
Of course, one response to these conversations is to talk about how to manage change. Most often this focuses on structured approaches to ensure that changes are thoroughly and smoothly implemented, and that the benefits are achieved. This is traditional change management. Resilience, on the other hand, is marked by adaptation and learning. It’s about the ability to recover quickly from change. It helps deal with the pressures and uncertainty of today and at its best and results in openness to learning and durability. It is also often noticeably absent from traditional change management.
Time and time again leadership stories underscore that turbulence—and hardships—are pivotal learning experiences. The skills that foster resilience are essential for success today. Resilient people demonstrate flexibility, optimism, and durability. It does not mean they are unflappable, tough, or unaffected. The Center’s point of view is that resilience can be learned and that today’s leadership programs need to focus on how to acquire resilience. There are three key aspects:
Accept that change is an opportunity to grow. Change is inevitable. It is human nature to resist change. And, not all change results in good outcomes. Nevertheless, change is an opportunity to stretch skills and to adapt. It is an opportunity to bolster strengths, develop new skills, and learn to accept that there are things you can control and things you cannot. The concepts sound easy, but putting them into action is not. Making this shift requires an accurate understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses, paying attention to your environment and reactions, and finding time and space for reflection and action. Increasingly, we are structuring our leadership training programs to focus on creating space for our participants to have these conversations. Some of this is structured “downtime” during face-to-face sessions where participants can share experiences and reflect, and some of it is within the context of executive coaching sessions and journaling. It may be time to bring back the gratitude journals of the 1990s!
Own your power. Change is not just something that happens to you. While you may not be able to control what is happening, you can shape your response to it. You can take charge and create resilience by choosing your actions and reactions. One of the reasons our programs require leadership projects is to create opportunities to undertake change that can ultimately improve patient care. The project is a chance to take on a “stretch” assignment that is meaningful and that provides many opportunities to use strengths, learn new skills, and strive toward a meaningful outcome. The ideal process is both fluid enough to allow for new solutions and structured enough to ensure that change is implemented. Our intention is teach the necessary skills to move from concept to execution and to ensure that participants learn skills that add to their power to be effective and resilient.
Use networks. Resilience requires a network. Professional and personal relationships are critical to accelerating learning, collaboration, overcoming hardships, broadening perspectives, and expanding our vision. These are essential for navigating change. Expanding professional networks is a key goal of our leadership programs and contributes to the “secret sauce” that result in the success and impact of our trainings. This goal drives how we structure our programs, design our curricula, and assess our impact.
In the coming year, we will be dedicating more time to refining our trainings to help leaders overcome or avoid change fatigue and to support their ability to embrace the pivotal opportunities to be resilient. And, in true Center fashion, we’ll be sharing what we learn as we go through this process. Stay tuned.