Change Agility: Buzzword or Mindset?

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My mom was only 32 years old when she uprooted herself and eight of her 10 kids out of Vietnam back in 1975. Once the Unites States forces left, there was no stopping The Viet Cong from taking over the rest of the country. We weren’t safe. No one was. We left everything behind including our two older sisters, the rest of our extended family, our home, everything. With only a few bags in our hands and the clothes on our backs, we fled overnight, literally. I was only 4 years old. 

Excerpt from Confronting My Elephants by Rubi Ho

The Answer is Mindset

To say the least, my mom had what I call Change Agility. The ability to quickly assess any changing situation, determine its impact and take action on what’s best and right, regardless of whether or not it feels good or how difficult it may be. For her, Change Agility was not a buzzword. It was a matter of survival. She was determined to save her family at whatever cost.

How many of you have mentally faced – and handled – change as truly a “do or die” situation? Or perhaps, more commonly, fooled yourself into believing that your organization is capable of change agility? Well, I’m here to tell you . . . most people reluctantly answer “no” to the first question and, even more reluctantly, “yes” to the second. That’s why this article is so important to you, your organization and your bottom line.

Change is Here to Stay

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Change is certain. It is no longer something that happens periodically. It’s continuous— constant and unrelenting. The block-and-tackle strategy for dealing with change that may have worked in a simpler past just won’t cut it today. To achieve sustainable success, today and in the future, you must have the mindset to take advantage of change —whether planned or unexpected—without ever letting it sideline you. This means embracing a new core competency: agility.

Organizations who are change agile are the ones that are still here and, more importantly, still relevant. Those who aren’t, are a thing of the past literally and figuratively. When was the last time you used a roll of film, listened to a cassette tape, watched movies from a Betamax machine, used a pay phone, or rented a video from a video store?

A few – with emphasis on “few” – of the companies who made those products are still around. But it’s not because they’re still selling those same products today. Instead, they bravely and boldly faced change. The ones who chose to be change-averse, well are no longer here. 

Transforming “Out of Control” to “In Control”

Has sudden or unanticipated change ever made you feel “out of control”? I can assure you that you’re far from alone. Like most people, our comfort zone is when we feel “in control.”

Now, I can’t – and won’t – help you avoid change whether it’s initiated by others or yourself. But I can help you embrace it and move it along the continuum of your specific comfort zone. By building your tolerance of change and ability to approach it in an agile manner, I can guarantee you will move from “barely surviving” to leading the charge and thriving.

My mother’s determination to escape Saigon, for the betterment of her family, is living proof of this statement. Without realizing it, she had an innate ability to accept the challenges while focusing her energy on the goal(s). This is the mindset of change agile individuals and companies.

Six “Make-it-Happen” Steps for Embracing Change Agility

Like my mother, you, too, can become change agile by successfully identifying, initiating, accepting and leveraging the inevitability of change. Make it happen with the following:

  1. Involve others in your change journey. There is something to be said when you know you are not alone in change.

My mom was a very courageous woman, but I honestly don’t know if she would have been able to make it to the States by herself. Granted, we were only children, but we shared her fears, her pains, her anxieties and her tribulations around the change. I have no doubt this helped her complete the journey.

  1. Focus on the positive, no matter what. Motivation and positivity is much more powerful than fear and negativity. No matter how difficult the change might appear to be, do everything within your power to find the good around the change. Now, I’m not saying to ignore or “sweep things under the rug.” I’m simply saying that focusing on the negative will not help you, your organization or change’s certain progress.

People were dying left and right during our escape from Vietnam. But my mom was not focused on death, but life, her life and the life of her kids.

  1. Embrace all that you can control and let go of EVERYTHING you can’t. We, as human beings, have very large egos and I’m “Chief of All Sinners.” I like to believe that I can control everything when, in reality, I control almost nothing. So it is critical that when change comes our way, we must identify what we can truly control and let go of what we can’t. As in my mother’s case, it could be the difference between life and death, literally.

I told you earlier that my mom had to leave behind our two oldest sisters who were only 13 and 14 years old at the time. They had been separated from us and living with our uncle in another part of the country. If my mom would had hesitated even one more day, none of us would have made it out of the country at all.  

  1. Keep perspective and objectivity. Change comes upon us all. Sometimes we like to treat change like it’s going to be the end of the world. But the reality is it’s not. You will get through it, no matter how great the change might appear to be.

I can’t imagine how my mom was feeling having just left her two daughters behind. The guilt and pain that she felt must have appeared insurmountable. But she had to maintain perspective and know that, at the very least, the majority of her kids were going to be ok and get another chance at life and opportunity.

  1. Take immediate action once you know change is going to occur, don’t wallow. Once you know change is inevitable, waiting around to do something is like watching a tornado a mile away and waiting to react until it is right in front of you. No good comes of delay. Instead, the quicker you take action around change, the quicker you regain a sense of control.

We were one of the fortunate families that made it out of Vietnam back in 1975. There were millions who did not. Some, like our uncles, believed that the Viet Cong charge was going to dissipate, similar to what happened to the French and Chinese when they invaded Vietnam. They were wrong and, unfortunately, too late to do anything about it.

  1. Build your discipline around change. Change agile individuals are the most apt to thrive in almost any situation. They will just do what it takes to make things work, no matter what. Learning how to become comfortable with change does not happen overnight. But the good news is that acquiring the ability – and the mindset – to be change agile can absolutely be learned. It doesn’t happen by chance. It must be purposefully practiced and applied.

My mom was a game changer. Her natural ability to be change agile was the result of years of constant change in her life. Growing up as a farm girl, she had very little means to make ends meet, especially when her husband was captured during the war. With mouths to feed, she pulled in extended family, sought out odd jobs, and involved the entire community to help us survive. When she realized the U.S. forces were pulling out, she initiated change again and got us out of the country. If it weren’t for her, we would never be in this wonderful land called the United States of America, the land of the free! And I would never have had the opportunity to do what I passionately do today in the realm of leadership and organizational health.   

A Happy Ending Thanks to Change

I can’t close this blog without sharing what happened to my sisters who remained in Vietnam. Two years after our departure, we were thrilled to learn they were still alive. It took another 40 years before all of us were reunited for an emotional family gathering. Despite living on two different continents, we stay in close communication with each other. And thank our mother every single day for her courage.

My Change Agility Challenges to You

Make my mother proud with your courage to be a change agile leader in your personal and professional lives.

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