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Leading your team through change? Don’t forget the unchanging

  • Change can be problematic because of our limited understanding of how change is experienced at a human level.
  • We are conditioned to be reactive towards what is changing or inspired by what needs changing that we neglect the ‘unchanging’.
  • The three key capabilities to deal with change are creativity, communication and control.

Leaders often find change a challenging prospect, not least because the change that is thrust upon us has a tendency to upend our carefully thought-through strategies whilst the change we try to implement ourselves is often resisted by our own teams, customers and communities.

Part of the problem lies in our limited understanding of how change is experienced at a human level, however, it is also amplified by our limited frame of reference. In other words, our view of change is rather too narrow.

Our belief is that change is in fact informed by 3 Spheres of Change and that a complete change strategy must include an accounting for how all of these spheres interact and for the skill sets and strategic tools required to navigate the differing requirements of each of them.

The 3 Spheres of Change include:

  1. What is changing — This sphere gets the lion’s share of our attention as it is considered the most disruptive and therefore presents the greatest threat and risk to our existing strategy and core business. This might include things such as technological changes, new competitors in the market place, value shifts within our communities or even the fickle fancies of fashion.
  2. What needs changing — This sphere usually informs our innovation and cultural strategies, the new and exciting vision or reinvention that a new leader might hope to bring to an organisation or an industry.
  3. What is unchanging — This sphere of change gets almost no attention. It seems neither threatening nor particularly exciting, but a failure to account for this sphere of change can see the other spheres come undone rather rapidly. And it is here that we will place our focus today.

This third Sphere of Change, What is unchanging, aligns quite nicely with the Not urgent but important quadrant of Dr Stephen Covey’s famous Urgent/Important matrix and, in much the same way, investment in it supports the other spheres (or indeed quadrants).

Of course, we’re so conditioned to be reactive towards what is changing or inspired by what needs changing that we neglect the unchanging and in fact seldom give it the attention it deserves when designing our strategies or policies.

So what, if anything, is changing in a world experiencing unprecedented levels of change?

For the past 18 months, we’ve focused our attention and research on the skills, traits, characteristics and values that leaders, educators, economists and futurists believe will be evergreen and eternally useful. No small task!

What we’ve learned is that few of them had even considered change from this angle and that much of their current focus in terms of team training or even their own children’s education risks becoming redundant in the not-too-distant future.

To fill this gap, we looked at work trends across different cultures and throughout history (after all, a skill that is forever useful has probably always been needed) and then compared these finding with current work trends and the plethora of predictions being made by experts, organisational strategists, corporate giants and government departments.

What we discovered was that these Forever Skills tended to cluster into three key capabilities:

  1. Creativity — our ability to solve problems in ways we’ve not seen before, to transform data into insight and to convert a resource from one form to another
  2. Communication — the need to move people to action, to be persuasive and to translate meaning from one context (or world) to another
  3. Control — the management of resources, expectations and behaviours and to create social consensus around these issues

If we overlay these skills the current curricula of schools and universities or with the training protocols in large organisations, we’re starting to see some overlap, but not nearly enough and certainly not quickly enough.

We constantly see critical gaps in all three of these capabilities as leaders and HR directors try to play catch up and to make up for an education system that was designed for the specific technical needs of the first industrial revolution and has struggled, like the rest of us, to maintain relevance in the second, third and fourth industrial revolution and beyond.

In a world where AI, algorithms and robotics will easily surpass our abilities in repetitive or dangerous work, we need to shift our focus to what is uniquely human and where we have always found meaning – in what we create, in how we communicate and how we might better control ourselves and the world around us.

Ultimately, our ability to engage with what is unchanging is critical to how we hire, where we invest and the kinds of training and education our teams require, not just in the future, but right now — today!

Perhaps more importantly, it also allows us to establish a sense of control whilst navigating change, to link the new to the familiar and understood, to create engagement without increasing panic and to future proof our organisations by shifting our focus from the products and services we currently produce to the values and contribution me make.

Kieran Flanagan and Dan Gregory can be contacted by email at

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