Most of us know the saying that the only constant is change – but lately, many New Zealand organisations have gone from dealing with a slow, steady trickle of changes to a never-ending waterfall.

In fact, there’s even a term for it: VUCA – operating environments that are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
Businesses are being challenged to adapt more often and more quickly. Rapid change not only disrupts long-term planning and day-to-day delivery but can also put huge stress and pressure on employees, impacting on their productivity and wellbeing.

Organisations are managing the impacts of natural disasters, the aftermath of a pandemic, and the fallout of government reforms and policy change. 

There’s also a looming recession, rising inflation and wages, workforce shortages and, of course, the upcoming election to just name a few of the challenges ahead. No wonder we are all exhausted!

So, how best can board members, CEOs, executive teams, managers, and virtually anyone else who looks after others within an organisation lead through constant change?

Begin with the big picture 

Making sure your organisation is clear on the ultimate goal is the one thing that should stay relatively stable. 

The goalposts may shift, the time needed to deliver outcomes may need adjustment and organisations may have to navigate new operating conditions they are unexpectedly faced with, but if the vision is clear then everything else can be adapted.

At ProCare, we talk about this in terms of our North Star, and make sure we cover off our strategy with all staff twice a year, but we also talk about this more informally at least once a quarter to make sure we’re on track.

In healthcare, it’s very easy to get caught up wanting to help everyone and to solve everything – after all, that’s why so many of our people got into healthcare in the first place. 

But it’s important to stop, step back and take that time to assess where we’re at against our objectives and make sure we’re heading towards our North Star again.

Reassure those in your orbit

During the pandemic, what were politely labelled as "unprecedented times" were to the rest of us crazy and insane (insert your own "[in]appropriate adjective" here if you like). 

Sometimes just acknowledging that times are crazy and we’re all feeling the same unrelenting pressure to deliver is enough to put everyone at ease so they can let out a collective sigh.

When faced with frequent upheaval, reassuring your employees, stakeholders and customers that change is on the horizon but that your goal remains clear and the values you lean on in tough times still hold strong can be enough to reorientate everyone back to what’s needed. 

It’s far more preferable than having those around you merely reacting to the chaos that’s in front of them.

One of our five values at ProCare is kia whakamana te tangata – we courageously embrace meaningful change. We know we live in a world of change, and we’re literally in the midst of the biggest overhaul of the healthcare system that we’ve seen in a generation. 

It is going to be difficult, and we will have to adapt and do things differently – but by supporting each other with empathy, respect, reassurance and kindness, we know we can get through this together.

Explain the rationale

If an organisation must suddenly adapt to something thrown in front of it, you cannot underestimate the value of explaining why change is needed. 

We take medicine when we are unwell because healthcare experts explain the benefits and reasons it’s necessary. Most employees and customers can embrace change and swallow a "pill" if they understand and are aligned with the ultimate reason it is needed.

Leadership expert Simon Sinek talks about starting with why. When you outline your why, it inspires others to action and explains your purpose and the reason you exist and behave as you do. When you explain that to your teams, everything else just falls into place.

Life is short: focus on what matters

While we can do our best to adapt to change, use technology to streamline processes and find efficiencies, we may need to recognise some of the key takeouts from Oliver Burkeman’s book Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It.

Life is frighteningly short. Now more than ever, things are constantly grabbing our attention and time. The day will never arrive when you have emptied your inbox. There will always be too many demands on your time, and in healthcare – where patients are at the heart of everything we do – we can never achieve everything on the to-do list.

So how we focus our efforts, and consciously bring attention to the things that matter, may just be the one thing we can do that makes all the difference.