“Change is the only constant.” This was one of the key themes I wanted to emphasize as I kicked off the 2-day workshop at the UN Mission in Cap-Haitien, a coastal town in Haiti. The context: the U.N. mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which has been operational for over 13 years, is shutting down in the next few weeks. The 2-day workshop was titled: ‘Managing Change: Innovating from the inside out’.
The Field Operations Manager in charge gave me a brief introduction before the group of 30 Haitian U.N. staff, most of whom would be without a job in less than two weeks. I had decided to start the workshop with a story about my childhood and how it had been marked by change. Less than a minute into my story, he stopped me. “Oh no!” I thought. “He does not like my approach and is going to ask me get straight to the point, no stories, just content!” But the curve ball that came my way was more unexpected. The Field Operations Manager, knowing that I was a French speaker and noticing that most of the participants were Haitian, asked his staff: “Who would prefer the workshop in French?” Everyone raised their hand. He told me continue in French and then was off with a smile and wave. I guess I should have expected nothing less from a workshop on managing change!
The fact that I was no longer operating in my comfort zone of facilitating in English heightened my focus. I now needed the help of my audience for certain words – this made me more vulnerable and helped connect me to my audience. Lastly, my communication became much more direct and free of any jargon that I might have been tempted to use had I been delivering the workshop in English. Just as I experienced some unexpected benefits from the new circumstances, there are parallels for my participants for their much more significant life change. We spent some time as a group coming up with all the benefits of transition ahead for the group. And the list of benefits they came up with was longer than the list of drawbacks.
Change, by definition, causes stress. But, as health psychologist Kelly McGonigal outlines in her TED talk ‘How to Make Stress Your Friend, we all have the ability to reframe stress. While the workshop in Haiti covered a number of practical tools as participants worked through designing post-UN options, the session where I felt a real shift in the energy of the room is when we looked at Appreciative Inquiry. The short video ‘How to Find Bright Spots’, became the starting point for a great conversation on how we could use a strength-based approach to envision the change ahead. The two-day workshop ended with Steve Jobs joining us! His 2005 Stanford graduation speech hit a chord with the audience, many of whom were feeling the ‘golden handcuffs’ of their current position.
As I left Cap-Haitien and planned for my next workshop in the city of Les Cayes, I looked forward to being able to repeat what I felt had been a valuable process. But as I landed in the capital of Port-au-Prince, from where I was going to take a 4-hour bus to Les Cayes, I was informed that there had been a “security incident” in Les Cayes and that I’d need to deliver the workshop via teleconference instead, a medium that I had infrequently used.
I admire the team that organized the training for their ability to plan for this workshop despite all that needed to be done when a decade-long operation is closing down. The leadership of both regional offices strongly encouraged their staff to attend the workshops as it would help them in the transition ahead. Personally, I felt grateful to have been involved and left with a sense that my time there had indeed been impactful.
But the one lesson that had certainly been re-emphasized for me is that change is the only constant – whether in facilitating workshops or in life!