1. ”Some people never change”, they say. As an international trainer and coach with such a big experience in the subject of change, what is your opinion about this, John?
Well, talking about change as a concept, change is around and inside us every day. All of us change, whether we want it or not. Physically we grow and get older. Mentally and emotionally we mature. This is the natural process of life. We all experience impactful events. Events that create joy like getting our first job, getting married or becoming a parent. And events that can be painful, like being dismissed, getting divorced or children leaving the house to lead their own life.
When talking about changing as a person I make a difference between personality and behavior. Though some behavioural patterns may be tough to change, we all have changed more behaviors than we can remember. However, vital changes in our personality take more time. If a person has a coleric nature, he may change his coleric behavior, but that does not necessarily mean that his character trait changed.
2. What is John Bax's own definition of change?
For me change simply means moving from something to something else. This inevitably implies a process of ending something that exists and starting something new.
3. That is a clear and simple definition! But many people are afraid of change and for many it is synonymous with something bad. What would you say to them to prove that change isn't a bad experience?
Good that you use the word ’many’ because some people really need change, otherwise they get restless or bored. But to others change involves leaving their comfort zone and this causes turbulence. And this turbulence can surely be a bad experience depending on the level of intensity.
The good news is that we human beings have the power to overcome this turbulence, and have proven it frequently, though we may not always be aware of it. And when looking back to the changes we went through, many of us conclude that we learned, developed and matured both professionally and personally.
4. Since you've started as an international trainer and coach, what was your main focus in your projects?
In the beginning I mainly focused on training employees on the work floor, at the front desk, and in the back office. Then I started training and coaching their supervisors, and over the years I step by step moved the hierarchical ladder to deliver these services to boards and top management of multinationals and international companies.
5. Why do you choose, as a trainer or a coach, to deal with the subject of change?
Actually, in the beginning of my career as a trainer and coach I purely focused on developing skills that help individuals and teams to perform better. The subject of change at that time was more implicit in the sense of participants learning and applying new skills.
Only when I made the strategic choice to move my focus from standard trainings to tailor made development projects, the word ’change’ became an explicit part of my work. Many of the tailor made projects I acquired were longer-term projects ranging from half a year to three years. The titles of these projects indicated the transition to be made, for example ’’from sales to partnership”, ”from internal focus to external exposure”, or ”from local to regional player”.
6. What were your biggest projects regarding change?
Depends on what you mean by biggest. If I relate it to the scope of the change I would mention a nation-wide project in which my company in the Netherlands was selected by the Ministry of Education to support teachers at secondary schools to teach in a more interactive way and to introduce group work in the classroom. This was a change prescribed by the Ministry itself and met with a lot of resistance from the teachers at that time. Many teachers felt this project as an attack on their professionalism and on their autonomy in the classroom.
If I relate it to the impact of the change I certainly would mention a project initiated by the Ministry of Health, Well-Being and Sports in the Netherlands. They decided to gradually close down institutions for mentally handicapped people and to integrate them into society by letting them live in houses within the community. Of course under professional supervision. This was a huge change in the role and working environment for the nurses and social workers of those institutions.
And if I relate it to the visible result of the change I did a very successful project in which I was guiding a relatively young Romanian top- and middle management of a foreign company to grow individually and as a team in order to fully take over the foreign lead of that company. This process involved quite a change for the managers in accepting and taking responsibility in problem-solving and decision-making.
7. Can you tell us something about a present project regarding change, and the benefit of the project for the client?
Let me see... There is a project regarding a merger between two companies. A Romanian company and a foreign company. Statistics show that about 70% of the mergers don’t achieve the targeted results or even fail. One of the main reasons is that hardly any or little attention is paid to the emotional transition process of the people. Just think about dealing with issues like increased insecurity of position, changing procedures, and cultural differences. The benefit of such a project is that by linking the organizational changes to the emotional transition process of the people in dealing with those changes, the change process will move faster and leave less residues of frustration while the new situation is in full operation. And last but not least, there will be less loss of good people. In a period of collective frustration, it are the more confident and competent people that resign first.
8. Your experience and projects make you the right person to answer this: how can we, as individuals, cope with so so many and important changes the world is going through?
Wow, now you take it to another level! We live in a world of accelerated change. More sophisticated communication channels make us process more and more diverse information. New technology speeds up innumerable processes. What is new today may be outdated in a month or even faster. Our biggest challenge as individuals is how we can keep up with this pace, physically, mentally as well as emotionally. Just imagine, intelligent people are already discussing for a while to which extent we will control artificial intelligence in the future, or to which extent it will control us.
And how can we cope with it? By using the same resources as we have been doing up to now: continuously adjusting our mindset and increasing our flexibility and creativity. Only stretching the scope, speed and agility in doing so. For instance in the example of robots, we may get stuck in the fear that robots will take over our jobs. And yes, this process is already ongoing for years and it will only accelerate. Instead of being blocked by fear, we may ask ourselves how we can make robots part of our daily life, both privately and professionally, how we as human beings can collaborate with them, and what opportunities arise when robots take over repetitive routine operations.
I wish to add one other important thing. There is a saying ’when the world around us is moving faster, we need to slow down inside’. We human beings are continuously searching for balance between action and rest. In the faster moving world around us, this has become a much bigger challenge. Creating moments of slowing down on a daily basis for some quality time is not an option anymore. It has become an absolute necessity!
9. And what do you think is today and in the near future the main challenge regarding change for organisations?
To focus on value creation every day. And I don’t mean shareholder value. I mean making the difference that makes the decisive difference. And in the context of the accelerating changing world it means to become and stay competent in change in every corner, layer and aspect of the organization. To become and stay a company that can change as fast as the change itself.
This requires a paradigm shift in management. The concept of ’Span Of Control’ has become obsolete. The newer concept of ’Span Of Support’ is not sufficient anymore. Anticipation, flexibility, agility, improvisation, creativity and innovation are the keywords, now and in the near future. It is about continuously challenging today’s ways of thinking and working.
10. When it comes to change, do you have a motto, a special story or experience, advice, etc. you share it to people you work to, besides your programme itself?
Yes I do. I’ll limit myself to my motto: ”In a world of change it takes more effort to stand still than to move!”.