I’m sure like me you have your rituals, whether that’s the daily coffee always bought from the same coffee shop, the time that you eat your lunch or the run that you take after work. The small and seemingly important fabric of our lives that we execute without much conscious thought or application. And as we go about our days we notice the pattern in others, the woman always stood on the same corner waiting for a lift as we drive to work, the car that always parks in the same spot in the carpark, the person who gets on the train in the same carriage every day, the person who sits in the same seat at the bar, come rain or shine.
Those of us who’ve been involved in the raising of children are acutely aware of the importance of ritual, the bed, the food, the temperature, the bedtime story and hot milk. Change any of the fundamental parts and we deal with the repercussions for days if not weeks thereafter. And anyone with a pet will tell you that they become accustomed to patterns and will know when to sit by the door for a walk or when there is likely to be a warm lap about for a snooze.
When we think about work and the workplace there is, of course, no difference. Our workplace rituals form part of the same fabric, equally important but also so deeply ingrained that they cease to play in our consciousness. The seat that you sit in, the coffee with the team before setting out for the day, the coffee break to catch up on the chat and gossip with our co-workers, the order in which we approach work and how we deal with the daily tasks that arise.
And in the same way we rankle when someone is parked in our space, the coffee shop is closed, the same way that children fail to sleep or wake to early, when we mess with these rituals then we create a sense of disquiet and unease. That’s why change at work is never a science and is always an art. Over the years I’ve learnt that anyone who thinks change is explained through a gang chart is probably going to be gone before the full ramifications are understood. It is why I hate the faddism for “disruption” promoted by the same Linkedin voices that will also happily share their daily routine for success, “I get up before I go to sleep, run two marathons powered only by pecan nuts and then meditate on hot stones. Smashing it.”
We’re hugely adaptable as a species, the pandemic has shown that in technicolour, but that doesn’t mean that the adaption doesn’t cause stress and discomfort. And during that period we are less productive, less focused, more risk adverse and generally less happy. To make change effective we need to understand this, support it and take it into account in our planning but execute it with compassion, care and consideration.