Lead with Learning Series: Technology & Constant Change

by | May 29, 2024 | Leaders

This is Part Four in a series where I explore how a Lead with Learning approach to team development addresses many of the challenges organizations and leaders face. I’m writing my next book, Lead with Learning, and admittedly, I am using this newsletter to write different chapters. Enjoy the book preview!

Earlier this year, I facilitated a leadership workshop for a long-standing client. It’s a cooperative, and the participants started an 18-month program to develop skills to become delegates. In the workshop, leaders worked in teams to complete case studies, apply leadership concepts, and practice skills they would need as delegates – chairing meetings, making presentations, etc. The workshop was multifaceted, so each team had a coach to support them. After the first day, I facilitated a discussion with the coaches to see how the groups were doing. We had an interesting conversation about ChatGPT. One coach shared their team was using it to help them write the report for their case study. Another coach had a strong reaction and viewed using ChatGPT as cheating. He wanted to tell his group so they knew another team had an unfair advantage. Interestingly, the third coach shared that his group had wondered if they could use Google to search for data and resources.   

I found this conversation and the three coaches’ perspectives fascinating. Technology provides new tools and ways of doing things. As we explore a new technology and its application, sometimes we are asked to evolve more quickly than we’re comfortable with. Ten years ago, the group’s question about using Google might have elicited a negative reaction and been perceived as cheating. Now, Google is commonplace and considered an excellent research tool. In the 1970s, if a math student used a calculator, they would have been accused of cheating. Similarly, now, a calculator is a natural extension of math. Suppose we fast forward ten years or even five years. In that case, I suspect ChatGPT or another AI-powered language model will become like the calculator and Google – a tool people have incorporated into their daily lives. The discussion with the coaches and the different perspectives reflect that we’re at a transition point with AI-powered language models.

Adopting new technology represents a change, and as with any change, there are early adopters, resistors, and the majority of us who are somewhere in the middle.

It seems so obvious a statement – we live, work and learn in a world with constant change. Yes, there has always been change – spring flowers emerge from the thawing soil, the heat of the summer and the slow decay of fall leading into winter. Our lives have changed, too, as we move from childhood to teenagers and into adulthood. The difference is that the pace and predictability of the change we experience now differ from the seasonal and life stages we can predict. Change is often thrust upon us and repeats repeatedly, leaving us with a sense that it will never end. It may feel like we can’t stop long enough to catch our breath.  

I work with a Human Resource leader at a medium-sized municipality. Recently, Colin shared how his HR team struggled to support leaders in managing all the changes underway in their organization. Colin talked about the change in their leadership, a new strategy for the organization, and several technology initiatives underway. Perhaps you can relate. Change is coming at you from many fronts. Leaders often don’t have the time, skills, or mental bandwidth to respond in a constructive, positive and supportive way.  

The image of a tornado comes to mind when I think of leaders trying to manage change. Tornados are powerful forces that swirl and churn and cause destruction in their path. A tornado sucks up nearby objects as it grows. A small change – a small tornado – under the right conditions can get bigger, and we are sucked into the turmoil and feel out of control.  

Tornados and change aren’t going away. Instead of wishing them away, we can look at the conditions that make us feel out of control. Tornados need instability to form – warm, moist air near the ground and cooler, dry air above. They also need wind. Carrying this analogy further, we could say that discomfort with change results from our instability – a difference between our expectations and what we’re being asked to do differently. Like tornados, wind or the pace of change makes us feel out of control.  

I want to focus on technology as a source of change. Like my HR client, Colin, your organization may be experiencing change on many fronts. However, technological change is the most challenging to respond to. The World Economic Forum1 predicts that by 2027, almost half (44%) of workers’ core skills will be disrupted. Technology, including AI and green transition, is moving faster than companies can respond to.  

I worked with Steve, the HR Director at a national law firm, to develop a learning strategy to equip their leaders to coach and develop their employees. When I interviewed their senior leaders, I asked about the pace of change and technology. Many said they were inseparable—inextricably linked.  

Think of your organization right now. How many digital transformation initiatives or system changes are underway?  

A colleague of mine, Brad Twynham, is a thought leader in technology, innovation and disruption. I attended one of his sessions where he explained the impact of exponential technology change. Historically, humanity has experienced linear change, and we’ve been able to anticipate it, respond, and adapt to it. In the past couple of decades, that has changed to exponential change. This is fast, and is why the pace of change has increased so dramatically. Brad shared this example, which highlighted the challenge of exponential growth.  

Imagine you are in a stadium at a music concert. You are in the ‘nosebleed’ section – in the cheap seats at the top of the stadium, where the stage is a small blip in front of you. Imagine it starts to rain, but instead of a regular rain pattern, each second, the drop doubles. In the first second, one drop falls; in the second, two raindrops; in the third second, four raindrops, etc. On average, it would take only 25 minutes for the stadium to fill. Standing in the nosebleed section, you would see the mosh pit fill in 19 minutes. You’d probably think that it’s filling pretty quickly and start to wonder if you should leave. The problem is that time is ticking as you leave your seat with thousands of other people. You have only 3 minutes to evacuate before the entire stadium is filled with water.   

This example highlights that exponential growth is fast, difficult to anticipate, and deceptive. Brad talked about the curve of deception—the point at which the initial slow curve starts to shift up and become rapid change. This curve of deception is when we’re in the nosebleed seats, watching the stadium fill and not realizing how quickly it will affect us.   

Change is part of how we live, work, and learn. We know the pace of change is fast and will continue to be so. As leaders in Human Resources, like my client Colin, or leaders who manage teams directly, how can we respond to change so it feels less like an out-of-control tornado? 

Here are three considerations for managing change and supporting others in the change process.  

Having a learning mindset helps manage change. Think back to the coaches in my leadership workshop. Are you the coach who supports her team using Chat GPT or the coach who feels it’s cheating? Embrace your curiosity and consider new experiences an opportunity to learn and grow. Your mindset is the one thing you can control when everything else feels out of control.  

As a leader, you set the tone for your team culture. Take the time to get to know your team members as individuals – their preferences, passions and interests outside of work. I know some leaders and employees are more comfortable with this than others. I’m not suggesting you become best friends, but demonstrate care and compassion towards your employees. Creating a positive team culture sends a message: “You’re not alone in this.” Change can feel daunting, but when there’s solidarity with others, it can feel more manageable.  

Organizations have three responsibilities to support leaders in managing change. First, they must provide clear and consistent communication to leaders and employees. Change consultants have robust communication strategies beyond what I’m writing about here. Suffice it to say organizations need to communicate:  

  • What – What is the change? 
  • Why – Why is it happening?  
  • Who – Who is impacted by the change? 
  • When – When is it happening – what’s the timeline? 
  • Where – Where can I find out more? 
  • How – How will it impact me? 

Organizations also need to provide leaders with resources to support change initiatives. These could be communication packages, step-by-step guides, or even training.  

Finally, organizations need to recognize and celebrate all who embrace change. Think of a marathon for a moment. When do we cheer for people who cross the finish line? We cheer for the first people who cross – the winners. Those are the change, early adopters. While we need them, we must also cheer on the others who follow. Most runners who cross the finish line do well after the early adopters. We must keep cheering as they continue their journey and reach the finish line.  

When we nurture a learning mindset, foster a supportive team culture, and ensure organizational support is in place, our experience can shift from feeling like we’re being swept up in a tornado and out of control to travelling along a highway. Yes, you’re going fast – change is happening fast – but we control the direction, have some control over the speed, and know who’s in the vehicle with us. Finally, we can always get off at a service centre to take a break before continuing our journey.  

I invite you to complete this free short diagnostic I created to asses three areas that form the Lead with Learning philosophy and build a team culture of learning: Learning Mindset, Team Culture and Organizational Support. Find out where you and your leaders have strengths and where you can improve your resiliency and adaptability.  

1   “6 work and workplace trends to watch in 2024” World Economic Forum. 2024.02.06 (link)

I’ve shared some additional posts online. Here they are, in case you missed them.  

  • Finding Time for What’s Important – (video link
  • Handling the “Talent War”– (video link
  • Demographics and the talent shortage – (video link
  • Critical new employee skills needed for the future – (video link

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Hannah Brown

I help close the gap between formal training from learning and development and leaders fostering learning on their teams to embed it into their DNA.