Imagine the impact you could have when supporting your leaders and teams to experience change well, says Aliina Rowe

Learning New Approaches to Change

As with change itself, how organizations approach and steer change has been evolving. When we speak about organizational change, we are no longer referring only to a specific change programme, a new release deadline or steps set in stone towards a new desired state.

There is another way to look at organizational change: along a continuum, ever-present, embedded in the everyday work of our organizations.

This is of course not to say that we shouldn’t strive to keep our deadlines or that we shouldn’t take concrete steps in front of us to a change ahead. But it does mean that we can – and we must – learn new ways to engage with change. To rediscover.

Learning how best to approach change in our organizations is required of all of us. Managing change is no longer reserved solely for the change managers, the “higher-ups” and the C-suite. Managing through change involves every role at every level if we are to really and truly do the hard work of breaking resistance, removing barriers and motivating our colleagues towards successful change.

As Assistants, you play a particularly important role when it comes to organizational change: key support to those leaders and teams who are actively managing change on a daily basis. Your work is service-orientated, in support of those you work alongside as well as for your organization as a whole. Do not forget that this kind of service-orientated support role is not about helping out, but rather, holding up. Your support role lies within the foundation of your organization. And that foundation needs to be able to withstand not only planned and incremental change, but unplanned and continuous change as well.

We know that the change mindset of leaders is one of the most important factors in successful organizational change, and as an Assistant, you are a trusted partner working with those leaders. Even though your roles will differ on paper and purpose, you will often be facing what they face, and you will often need to know what they know. The more you can understand how to best manage through change alongside those you support, the better off your organization will ultimately be.

Learning to See Yourself Engage in Change in Your Assistant Role

How do you see yourself engaging in change within your organization?

Maybe you care a lot about changes happening in your organization, or maybe your focus lies elsewhere. Maybe you are aware of some planned changes ahead, or maybe none spring to mind.

Maybe change is within your day-to-day work: Are you involved with implementing new internal processes, supporting a new system release or a product launch? Are you planning a location move – country, city, or even the floor of your building? Are you tracking progress on a change initiative? Are you organizing events to celebrate milestones? Is there a new leadership team being onboarded? Is there a new strategy that requires you to rethink how you will work?

And if you don’t see yourself in those scenarios, what about your role working alongside the leaders and teams you support daily: Are you managing contacts and networks? Information and focus? Time and energy?

Do you see yourself in your role as an Assistant in any of those scenarios? Even if none resonates with you now, can you sense the undercurrent of change, and do you see the need to prepare for the next wave? And most importantly, do you know how you can engage with change in the best way possible, alongside the leaders and teams you support?

Learning the SMALL Framework

There is no one right way to manage through change and no one right approach. So why focus on SMALL? Because of my own professional working experience, from the organizational change literature and research, and from what I have been able to learn from colleagues in the Assistant profession, I am confident that paying attention to the “small”, “ordinary” interactions, details and connections in your day-to-day work is a powerful way to see how you can make an impact when it comes to managing and experiencing change in your Assistant role.

Assistants can benefit from a framework that resonates and reflects the skills and tasks of the profession itself. The SMALL framework is grounded in the fact that the small things do matter when it comes to successful organizational change, while providing a way for Assistants to see themselves engaging in change using the skills they have – entirely relevant skills needed to manage change alongside the leaders and teams of their organizations.

In my series of articles in Executive Support Magazine on this framework, you can learn more about how starting with a focus on small matters – what you do informally, right now, that connects people – gives you another view and lens in your work that focuses on organizational change. You will see how a mindset for change is of fundamental importance not only for you but for the leaders and teams you support. You will also see how managing information is at the centre of your role in change – how you acquire, assess and leverage it in the best way possible to have a positive impact. And finally, you will see the importance of not missing the imperative step of learning along the steps of change by asking questions that allow for reflection and rediscovery.

Learning in Reflection

Learning is an integral aspect of organizational change, yet all too often we miss this fundamental, obvious step of taking the time to actively learn. Concentrating on deliberately asking questions – inward and/or outward – is a way of actively learning. As an Assistant, your unique point of view will give way to valuable questions that can affect change positively.

How have you experienced change?

There are an endless number of questions at hand when it comes to learning about organizational change. Whether it be reflecting on a specific change happening in your organization or reflecting on change in general first and foremost – look inward.

The more I have learned about organizational change, the more I appreciate the necessity of understanding that how we engage with change within ourselves affects how we go about building strong foundations for change within our organizations. After all, we are not simply implementing changes within or to our organization; we are also participants in and recipients of the changes happening around us.

Asking how you experience change can open the door for you to reflect on what small things matter to you as you manage change in your organization; how you’ve been managing your time, energy and focus; how you perceive change happening around you; what actions you have taken or wish you had taken; and how you might be able to engage in new ways moving forward.

How have others experienced change?

Learning about organizational change has allowed me to appreciate how change is both a personal and collective experience, and where those lines cross is where we should pay attention to get the most out of change and to experience it well.

As Assistants, you have unique networks within your organizations that you create in order to support leaders and teams in the best way possible. You are taking in information from all levels. And that information includes not only facts and figures – but also the stories and emotions that are expressed and carried within your organization in times of change.

Those stories and emotions shed light on how others are experiencing the changes happening around them. Paying attention to what those stories and emotions tell you can open the door for you to reflect on where to focus attention, find common ground and connect people to each other in order to engage in new ways moving forward.

What will be your contribution going forward?

As an Assistant, you are already engaging in organizational change. Imagine the further impact you can have when focusing on how you can best support your leaders and teams to experience change well.

The SMALL framework is a way for you to reflect on how you can best contribute to building foundations for change within your organizations. And while “small matters” means different things to different people, reflecting on what that means to you can open the door to engage in organizational change in new ways moving forward. To rediscover.

I invent nothing; I rediscover.

Auguste Rodin


The Administrative Profession Defining a Role in Organizational Change,” Aliina Rowe (2022), World Administrators Summit

Organizational Change: Start SMALL for a Big Impact – Executive Support Magazine

Organizational Change: Mindset Matters – Executive Support Magazine

Organizational Change: Information Matters – Executive Support Magazine

Organizational Change: Leveraging Information for IMPACT – Executive Support Magazine

Further Learning – Book Recommendations

If you’d like to learn more about change, the below list offers a great selection. These books were either assigned reading or recommended while I was researching and learning about organizational change. While there are endless resources on change, I found these books especially relevant and enjoyable to read. Most offer practical tools, checklists, and inspirational exercises. This list was originally published in the World Administrators Alliance Newsletter of April 2023.

1. The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer
This book covers many important topics and highlights the importance of acknowledging and celebrating progress, one of the most underestimated aspects of managing change. You’ll find useful checklists and questions and may find yourself coming back to this book as a useful resource again and again.

2. The Catalyst by Jonah Berger
This book focuses on reducing and removing barriers to change and how to change people’s minds. The practical guidance offered here focuses on removing roadblocks vs. pushing change – an insightful approach.

3. Change by Design by Tim Brown
This book is about Design Thinking – an approach to organizational change not reserved solely for designers or engineers but for all levels in an organization. If you are an administrative professional focused on creating experiences, putting yourself in other’s shoes and finding new practical ways of doing things, this is a book for you.

4. The Fearless Organization by Amy C. Edmondson
Amy Edmondson is a highly respected expert who has published extensive research on the topic of psychological safety and building workplaces where employees feel free of fear, able to make mistakes and find opportunities to grow together.

5. Uncharted by Margaret Heffernan
This book is an exploration on how to approach the future together through uncertainty. I can’t recommend this book enough, as it delves through stories where people and organizations have carved their own paths forward through change. Heffernan writes that it is an optimistic book, and this is apparent throughout.

6. Change by John Kotter, Vanessa Akhtar, and Gaurav Gupta
Kotter has published many bestsellers, and this new book builds upon previous work while addressing the “new normal”. A highly trusted and crucially important voice in the change field, this newest book also offers dedicated pages on how change comes from all levels in an organization.

7. The New Executive Assistant by Jonathon McIlroy
I found the framework and models in this book to be highly relevant. This book introduces a new EA-Executive framework focused on managing energy, mindset, focus, priorities and relationships – all crucial elements of engaging with change – and includes dedicated pages on how Assistants are change champions.

8. Rocking the Boat by Debra E. Meyerson
This is a book for those that feel they don’t necessarily fit in in their organizations but want to effect change, including incrementally and by leveraging small wins.

9. Culture + Change + Leadership: The Corporate Culture Survival Guide by Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein

Schein and Schein are leading voices in corporate culture, and this go-to book is an all-round fantastic resource on how to lead organizations through cultural change.

10. The Lightmaker’s Manifesto by Karen Walrond
This book offers a refreshing take on how to advocate for change without losing your joy. Filled with inspiring stories and thoughtful exercises, it is an easy and indeed joyful read.

Aliina Rowe is a proud, experienced Executive Assistant who champions the unique and integral role of the Assistant in good, meaningful and impactful organizational change. She is a certified Change Management Practitioner and recently earned an Executive ... (Read More)

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