Aliina Rowe explains how leveraging information well is a great chance to make a visible impact
We are all facing changes in our organizations, whether it be in our processes, technology, leadership structures, strategies, or company culture. As Assistants, many of you are working side by side with leaders and teams whose main objective revolves around implementing these changes – be they big strategic goals or small incremental improvements.
With so many changes facing our organizations, it’s important to understand the dynamics of organizational change and how your role can have a positive impact in approaching change within your organization, alongside the leaders and teams you support.
Why Do You Need to Understand the Dynamics of Organizational Change?
Understanding organizational change means understanding the hard work of breaking resistance, removing barriers, and maintaining momentum. It means focusing on the importance of bringing colleagues together with a collective purpose and connecting colleagues. Crucially, it also means knowing that the difference between successful and unsuccessful implementation of change often lies in small matters: paying attention to details, everyday interactions, nuances in communication, and the various approaches we take towards implementing change.
The work of an Assistant lies in those details and everyday interactions. How we communicate amongst our colleagues and how we approach change alongside the leaders and teams we support does make a difference. What we may view as the day-to-day and business-as-usual is actually where important work towards successful change is waiting for us to proactively step in and step up to support our leaders and teams with an eye towards implementing meaningful change in the best way possible.
How Can You Have an Impact in Organizational Change?
It is worth remembering the results of the research done by the World Administrators Alliance: 73% of administrative professionals feel their organizations don’t understand their role or potential impact.We, and our organizations, should not be content with this sentiment.
We are now in a crucial time in the Assistant profession where Assistants must show up for each other and come together to bring to light the impact of the work Assistants do. With change at the heart of the agenda in most organizations, we can benefit by orientating the Assistant profession to make an impact when it comes to organizational change.
Assistants have the chance to make an impact when it comes to change in ways both big and small: the working environments that we create alongside those we support are important to cultivating a mindset for change; the constant pursuit of getting the right and relevant information needed to stay on top of matters for our leaders and teams is crucial; and how Assistants are consistently – and uniquely – focused on managing the flow of information within our organizations makes a real difference when it comes to facilitating progress when implementing changes.
What Is Your Role in Information Matters in Organizational Change?
As an Assistant, you are sitting at the center of an organization’s information hub. You take in a wide breadth of information and are exposed to information travelling up, down, and across your organization through your expansive day-to-day connections. Information is coming to you from the C-Suite, entry-level, and everywhere in between.
You have the ability – even the responsibility – to leverage this information in the best way possible to support leaders and teams in making progress in change. You have opportunities daily to decide to leverage the information you have, responsibly, to support your colleagues at every turn to facilitate progress. And while some of those daily decisions about how you will approach managing information may seem small, remember: change lies in the details. And those small details matter a lot.
What Kind of Information Should You Look Out For?
While we may bear in mind that information is simply the hard facts, data, and content in our organizations, it is much more than that. We take in information that lies in the emotions, interpretations, and narratives running in our organizations. We communicate through our emotions. We make sense of change, on both an individual and collective level, in our interpretations. And we can better understand how changes are being perceived by listening to the narratives and stories being told within our organizations.
Assistants have a wide lens of information to look through, which creates a unique point of view and context when taking in all types of information. Managing through change requires using that view to look at the landscape of information in front of you – whether it be content and facts, emotions, interpretations, or narratives. By viewing and listening to how change is being felt and perceived, Assistants can take appropriate action to offer their support to informand bridge information gaps, motivate, plan, advocate, connect people, and help turn the page towards the desired change. Leveraging information well when it comes to organizational change is a great chance to make a visible IMPACT.
Making an IMPACT Through Leveraging Information
We need good information to effectively and positively manage change.
Good information means the relevant and right kind of information, fit-for-purpose for the change ahead. With all of the various sources of information reaching our desktops daily, filtering the information we need is often no easy task.
While the leaders and teams Assistants support are often taking in high-level and strategic information, an Assistant is often in the details, able to see small differences and patterns of information. In a collaborative and supportive working environment, these varying degrees of information – taking into account confidentiality levels – can be shared to create a more detailed, informed, and fuller view of changes.
As well as informing to contribute to a fuller picture of changes taking place, Assistants can inform in order to support in alleviating fears about changes ahead. Addressing and facing what people are afraid of in change helps in breaking resistance. We know that fear has roots in lack of information. Simply bridging information gaps, even small gaps of information, can go a long way. The less fearful people are, the more likely they are to engage effectively and positively with change.
Leverage the information you have to inform, bridge information gaps, and alleviate fear.
- Are you informed about change initiatives in your organization, so you are aware of the relevance and importance of the information you have as relates to change?
- Have you noticed information gaps in the process of implementing a change amongst your colleagues? If so, is there a plan, content, or data that you can share that may bridge a small information gap?
- With your unique perspective, have you noticed any disconnects in information – facts and content, emotions, interpretations and narratives – between the various levels within your organization that could be shared?
We need motivated colleagues to effectively and positively manage change and maintain momentum.
We know both intuitively and from the research on organizational change that there are myriad ways to motivate people, including: facilitating progress, celebrating wins both big and small, and acknowledging individuals and teams. A consistent focus on motivation can create and maintain the momentum needed towards change.
Often referred to as the “glue” that holds things together, Assistants are frequently an untapped and invaluable resource ready to engage and support in motivating leaders, teams, and colleagues. Widely viewed as corporate thermometers within organizations, many Assistants easily and intuitively take the temperature and mood of a room as well as the mood of the teams they support. This awareness and sensitivity to surroundings is important in recognizing where motivation may be needed within an organization in times of change. Creating opportunities and offering support to facilitate, celebrate, and acknowledge progress can make a big impact.
Leverage the information you have to facilitate progress, celebrate wins, and acknowledge individuals and teams.
- Are you able to facilitate progress by tracking, following up, and communicating on any change initiatives within your organization?
- Have you seen any wins within your organization in change initiatives that could be an opportunity for a celebration, big or small? Could you suggest or support in the planning of such a celebration?
- Are you aware of an individual or team contribution in a change initiative that could be acknowledged and brought to light, either on an individual level or elsewhere within your organization?
We need foresight and planning, self-organization, and an organized and nurturing working environment to effectively and positively manage change.
Increasingly, organizations are moving from static to agile ways of working and from incremental to continuous change. To manage all types of change, planning starts at creating, building, and maintaining foundations ready to withstand change across your organization before a change initiative may even start.
One truth is found at the core of these foundations: a mindset for change – one that allows time and space for creativity, flexibility and focus – is imperative to keep these foundations strong and intact.
Consistently thinking ahead and consistently self-organized, Assistants are by nature planners. There is business-as-usual planning and there is scenario planning from A to Z and beyond. As well, at the heart of the Assistant role is managing the space, time, and focus of leaders and teams. Through meeting scheduling, calendar management, and prioritization, the planning of colleagues’ focus is managed directly, or indirectly, through the work of an Assistant.
Planning is crucial to creating the foundations needed for a focused, organized, and nurturing working environment ready for change.
Leverage the information you have to utilize your foresight, planning, and self-organization skills to create an organized and nurturing working environment ready for change.
- Are you aware of upcoming changes in your organization, communicated or to-be communicated, where you can begin to already plan, including for various scenarios?
- Are you contributing to creating a nurturing working environment that allows the leaders and teams you support time and space for creativity, flexibility, and focus?
- Are you planning your own calendar to also allow time and space for creativity, flexibility, and focus? To most effectively manage change alongside the leaders and teams in your organizations, you need to know what that looks like for yourself, as well.
We need to understand the objectives, strategies, and narratives being communicated in our organizations to effectively and positively advocate when managing change.
Being able to understand a change in the full context of an organization’s objectives and strategies is ideal to be able to advocate for change. Additionally, being able to understand the narratives of changes happening within your organization through the stories people tell can shed light on how people are feeling about that change. Further knowing that those stories often multiply, spreading fast and wide, can create a heightened awareness of just how impactful those stories can be. And realizing that a core narrative – the desired messaging of the organization – can easily evolve and shape itself into counter-narratives can and should create an urgent need to manage those disconnects in objectives, strategies, and messaging.
When you see an area of change happening in your organization where you are aligned in your work and values, you may find there is an opportunity to advocate – pro-actively or re-actively – for that change.
Assistants are social colleagues, networked, and able to advocate. They are also sometimes a part of listening to and carrying narratives and people’s stories. Understanding the organization’s strategies and objectives, listening to narratives, and recognizing varying perceptions can be an opportunity to advocate.
It is important to bear in mind, however, that simply repeating objectives and messaging rather than listening and genuinely engaging in conversation will only create silence and disengagement. Really listening for disconnects, and then bridging any gaps in understanding, can be a powerful way to advocate for a change.
Leverage the information you have to effectively and positively advocate.
- Have you taken the time to understand the objectives and strategies of the change initiatives in your organization?
- Are you aligned with changes happening in your organization, and do you have the relevant and needed knowledge to effectively advocate for those changes?
- What stories are you hearing about changes within your organization, and what does this tell you about how the change is being perceived and understood? If there is a counter-narrative and disconnect, is there an opportunity to advocate for the change?
Change requires engagement, not only on the individual level but in the collective.
Widening involvement and connecting people with shared purpose is essential.
A successful Assistant works up, down, and across an organizational structure, spending a lot of time connecting with individuals at all levels of the organization and building bridges. Not only does this form 1:1 connections, but it allows Assistants to extend their reach and connect people – a key principle in engaging employees in organizational change. Whether Assistants are bridging disconnected individuals or connecting those in cohesive networks, they are catalysts for change, able to make an impact.
Leverage the information you have to connect people to each other.
- Is there a change happening in your organization that would benefit from utilizing the networks you have created? How could you best utilize those networks to connect?
- What daily contacts do you have that could benefit from connecting and exchanging information in general, to contribute and be prepared for changes that may lie ahead?
- Is there an opportunity to connect colleagues who have different perspectives on a change initiative within your organization?
Turn the page
We need to focus on both the vision and the journey to effectively and positively manage change.
Change requires balancing the duality of having a vision for a new desired state while not necessarily knowing every step of the way to get there. Targets will be moved and changed, presentations will be edited to the last minute, and new strategies will emerge. People will come and go, teams will shift dynamics, and conversations will be steered in new and unexpected directions.
This is the beauty of change. It requires real learning, creativity, resourcefulness, and perseverance to manage through this duality successfully. With a desired change and new state in mind, the only thing we can count on for sure is that we will keep moving forward in a journey until we get closer and closer.
Assistants are creative and resourceful, with real grit and determination and the willingness to learn and adapt to make progress. They often plan in minutes, hours, or days vs. in weeks, months, or years. They are motivated individuals who catch things as they land and find fresh solutions over and over again. Their days are about prioritizing and then re-prioritizing, planning and then re-planning. But when focused and successful, they are always moving forward – turning the page – to support their teams.
Just as leaders in organizations are tasked with steering individuals and teams, so too can Assistants offer support, direction, and guidance along a journey of change in their own unique way. We must move forward together.
Leverage the information you have to turn the page and move forward towards the desired vision, enjoying the journey along the way.
- Have you made an effort to understand the vision for changes happening within your organization, and thought about where you can be active and best fit in to help move that change forward?
- Are you having conversations with your colleagues, as well as the leaders and teams you support, on how change is progressing and moving forward?
- Have you been able to reflect on organizational changes you’ve experienced in the past? Could you bring forward the best parts of those journeys to better inform you of changes ahead?
Take Your Opportunity to Make an Impact
When I had the chance to research how Assistants engage in change within their organizations, one fact was clear: Assistants are well suited to navigate change within their organizations alongside the leaders and teams they support.
The landscape of information that lies in front of an Assistant offers a unique view and perspective of how an organization is progressing in change and can reveal new paths towards managing change effectively.
Trust that the unique perspective and information you have is relevant and can have an impact when leveraged in a positive, productive, and responsible way.
Take the opportunity to use that information in small but significant ways to Inform, Motivate, Plan, Advocate, Connect, and Turn the page to the next step, moving forward and approaching change in a better way.
David Cowan, Strategic Internal Communication (2017), 2nd ed. New York: Kogan Page Limited
(2022) World Administrators Summit