Embracing change

Sandy Anderson is working as a consultant to help organizations, businesses and couples through change and to promote positive environments. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Sandy Anderson is working as a consultant to help organizations, businesses and couples through change and to promote positive environments. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Sandy Anderson is helping organizations, businesses, couples embrace change through consulting business

Sandy Anderson looked back recently at a childhood family photo and saw a picture of herself sleeping on a bed of pine needles during one of her family’s many camping trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Looking back, she realizes her parents were always conscious and aware of environments. Now, Anderson is putting some of those skills she picked up in her consulting business, Sandy Anderson Consulting and Coaching LLC.

After starting her career in public health, Anderson has also spent several years consulting and coaching around one key subject everyone must endure at some point: change.

Anderson consults with businesses, organizations, couples and families about how to approach change and environments. She’s found that many companies, families and organizations often employ the wrong approach when it comes to change.

Oftentimes the powers at be or parents make a change and simply present it without any much explanation.

“I’m finding that as there’s an intentional approach to the change process, the family members or the employees in the organization are having higher levels of engagement,” she said. “They understand the need for the change. They’re owning the change.”

Looking back at those childhood camping trips, Anderson remembers her parents being keen about forging positive environments — they always wanted to leave their camp sites better than they found them wherever they traveled.

That environment spilled over to the home growing up in Silver Bay too. Her dad was a carpenter, so the family’s home was in a constant state of change, and she also remembers her mother letting Anderson and her sister rearrange their living room every weekend.

“We would just go wild,” Anderson said.

Now after about 20 years as a consultant and after she earned a masters’ in organizational leadership last spring, Anderson realizes just how important a positive, inclusive environment is when it comes to change and progress.

“That’s when you see the good stuff happening in the businesses,” she said. “Because people are showing up because they want to be there and there’s an environment that they can thrive in.”

But to Anderson, the key is to create positive environments — whether it’s in a business, a church or an organization.

“That’s where people want to show up,” Anderson said. “When that happens, from my experience, that’s when you see the good stuff happen in families, churches and other groups. That’s when people can thrive.”

Today, technology is pushing organizations, from small businesses to large corporations, through more drastic changes.

“You can begin to observe the companies that take the time to engage the people who are impacted by the change in the process versus those that say, Here’s the process deal with it,’” Anderson said.

But Anderson said employees, much like children in a family environment, can have a hard time accepting change if it’s simply imposed on them and they have no say.

She encourages people to always ask the simple, but important question: Why?

“It’s not about being disrespectful,” she said. “It’s about better understanding why the change is needed.”

Whether it’s parents, employers or organization leaders, people tend to take a lay down the law approach of simply stating that a change is coming without addressing the why.

No matter the group size, changes often start with the why.

“I’m just seeing that being extremely powerful,” she said.

 Reflecting on change

Anderson said nationwide, statistics show small levels of workers saying they feel engaged as an employee, which means many others are neutral and are just showing up. That can often be true for families too, since she describes families as simply types of organizations.

“What if we can increase the engagement level in families, we increase the engagement level in our worksites and churches?” she said.

The problem comes when people just basically say they’re going to make a change without explaining and engaging, people lose them.

One of Anderson’s key goals is to help an organization she’s working with reflect for the first time on the changes they want to see, rather than just changing as a knee-jerk reaction.

She does that through a process called appreciative inquiry, which is a process to help guide organizations, couples or even individuals to embrace and work through change. Appreciative inquiry guides people to define what kind of change they want to and need to make.

Anderson walks her clients through a cyclical process that includes many steps in the process: define (as in define the change), discover, dream, design and then deliver.

Appreciative inquiry is grounded in being solution-focused, which can be a challenge for people.

As a culture, we’re often trained to look at a problem and solve it. Anderson wants people to acknowledge the problem, but then they look at their situation after the change to decide what they want it to feel like after it’s enacted

The whole idea is explore and plan while engaging people at every step of the process. For some it’s exciting, but for others it’s scary.

But Anderson said the process caters to various types of personalities.

“This process, for somebody who thinks very black and white, it does give them some phases to work through so they see some concreteness,” she said. “Those folks who are much more comfortable with the gray or just think a little bit more creatively, this also allows them that space to do that.”

Her process of working through change gives equal ground for people. It doesn’t make for just the people in charge making the decisions, everyone has a say; it levels the playing field.

“When that happens, your engagement level is going to increase,” she said.

Some people can fall into a victim mode when a change happens to them, but when they’re at the table and have a say in the change, people are more likely to embrace a change.

“You think about how much money companies could save because how much money is spent with people who aren’t engaged and in some ways are intentionally or unintentionally sabotaging the change that leadership wants to make,” she said. “But what if they were on board at the beginning?”

 A positive focus

Society does a good job of focusing on the problem or hoping that someone else will come along and solve the problem.

But Anderson’s key is to not focus on the problem; it’s focusing on the solution and how a person or an individual wants that solution to work.

The focus is instead on what they want it to look like on the other end of the process.

Anderson’s methods aim to get people to dream: What do they want it to look and feel like after the change? She asks people for specific words and descriptions of what they want a program to look and feel like after the change, because then they come back later and see if they’re hitting the mark. Then they look at design: What steps are needed to work toward the change becoming a reality.

She finds this approach to be very hope inspiring, as it allows people to find what they need to make changes in their lives.

“You have all you need to solve this problem,” she said. “You actually have all the resources that you need.”

An important part is asking why they’re doing what they’re doing: Does a program feed the mission and vision or does it need to be released?

Anderson used a church as an example. Most churches have always had Sunday school, but some churches, largely due to limited resources, have debated whether to continue to do Sunday school or focus their resources on Sunday church nights.

“To even talk about not having Sunday school, for some that’s hard,” she said.

But putting those resources into something that could reinvigorate their programs through more non-traditional things like small groups or Wednesday night services may not be a bad thing.

In such a case, Anderson walks them through a process of reflection. They need to define the change they want to see and how the plan works into the overall mission statement.

The big push is for them to decide what they want their churches to look and feel like and then what resources they have to make those changes, but they have to make sure those changes align back to their vision and mission statement.

Anderson admits people and organizations can become attached to past practices, and she said there are many reasons. In order to change, workplaces, organizations and families need to to take the time to realize why someone is connected to a change in order to make it happen.

“Let’s make sure that if there’s good stuff they’re attached to that meets the vision and mission, we move that forward with us, but also helping them to process through letting go,” Anderson said.

 Coping with change

But change is rarely easy.

Loss is almost always associated with change, so Anderson looks to equip people to embrace what she describes as being an edge-walker or pioneers with change while also acting as a compassionate hospice worker.

“Those two roles oftentimes don’t seem like they would go together,” Anderson said. “But for sustainable change to happen, you need to be able to do that edge walking to say, ‘Let’s explore, let’s innovate,’ but at the same time looking to see what are things that we’re having to let go of.”

For some people, letting go of things will be a loss, but people need to work through that loss and grief as part of the process, because then they can better own the new change.

Another part is helping people to look at what they’ve done in the past, taking what’s worked and moving it forward with them.

She also sees the need at the high school level to be able to offer opportunities for how students can process change so they have strategies for how to look at change and not be frightened or stressed by it, which can often lead to less healthy ways of coping.

Change needs to be a life skill, Anderson said.

She’s very cautious that this is not therapy, nor does she want it to be therapy. In fact, she often recommends people to therapy if it’s needed.

“A lot of people don’t need therapy,” she said. “They just need to be able to have a space where they can talk through something like a change.”

Even for Anderson, she admits change can be daunting, but she said people need to embrace it.

“Each one of us, we have what we need to go through change if we are given an opportunity to reflect on it,” Anderson said. “There’s that risk, but again, there’s also the risk in staying and not changing.”

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