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Anxieties around managing organisational change

I first devised this method of enquiry into meanings and words associations a few years back. I wish it could be said that it was a somehow spontaneous, technical, or practice skill exercise, but it is, in fact, a significant component of an investigating method through Socratic questioning and client self-introspection, whereby clients learn to redefine or reinforce understandings and meanings attributed to specific situations and gain more clarity on a sense of self in various settings/environments.

It is specifically designed as a self-reflective technique; in therapeutic sessions, it would be assigned as an 'in-between sessions' task, and during sessions would be completed in collaboration with, and under the guidance of, your therapist.

There are several ways that such an 'exercise' can be construed and accomplished as a self-task. For many clients, using a timeline exercise is one easy way for guidance and as a form of re-checking and reconstructing several instances when things feel difficult or unclear.

Throughout various sessions and instances, there are similar questions that clients, inevitably, return to, and some of these situations involve anxieties around starting a new job, leaving a job, and/or managing organisational change.

A simple 'being yourself' exercise

The 'being yourself' exercise is a very useful tool to apply in all instances involving an organisational or personal transition that feels conflicting or difficult. The exercise can be conceptualised as an updating and realigning of long term goals - i.e. career prospects or managing change - by revalidating or assessing values with an application to new developments/situations.


All questions could be formulated around one acronym - VALIDATE.

V = Values

At this step, various work-related value domains are explored, such as;

  • values related to a specific work environment
  • ethics
  • working relationships
  • specific skills and training
  • work-life balance policies
  • values related to parenting and role modelling
  • social life and family
  • well-being and self-care
  • community and civic duties

If such a task feels overwhelming, there are several questionnaires and value-defined domains accessible via the internet or in textbooks on valued living experiences available to inspire and enable this stage of exploration. The purpose of this exercise, however, is not to signpost the reader to any specific material.

Values are different for everybody, and conducting a simple search and choosing a specific template to use makes this task even more meaningful to you and your experience. Values are different from goals and can change over time depending on one’s life events, lived experiences/circumstances, or by a realignment prompted by an educational and employment experience.

A = Assessing

This step involves further evaluation of personal values and creating a record of work value-domains identified in the previous step. Noted are also variations or observed changes in currently held value-domains. For instance, if in previous employment there was no stated need attached to seeking a work environment that would enable a better work/life balance, and at this current moment in time a specific new life event determines such a consideration to be accounted for, that specific variation needs recording and highlighting as a significant change.

There is also the possibility that changes are more subtle, such as seeking opportunities and involvement with a newly developed interest, and/or involvement in specific projects that would account for environmentally-held beliefs.

L = Listing

This third stage is about creating a list from primary to secondary and even tertiary levels on ideal (or desired) employment value-domains. For instance, start with describing specific work-related values - i.e. working for an ethically-minded corporation as a primary value, conducting projects involving such interests and passions as a secondary value, and acknowledging your company impact on climate change and the environment as a tertiary level.

Various other examples would involve a specific value related to certain personal qualities and existing skills that you feel like a change in employment would nurture and mature. Again, a listing that would involve all such values and relational domains would need enlisting.

I = Identifying

At this stage, a three-column table can be created with listing all aspects of your current work that exist in your current employment and correspond to your ideal value domains, desired aspects that are currently non-existent, and aspects that are in contrast or at conflict. The three-column table would require an examination of questions related to standards of the organisation you are currently working for or seeking future employment with.

This stage is essential in identifying potential sources of conflict, distress, or anxiety around your current role, coupled with specifically recognised value-domain conflicts. For instance, being a highly specialised, trained student, and reaching a stage in expertise and training that would require you to make a final decision over your specialism.

It is possible that at this stage in your employment and after training in various departments, your experience has challenged previously-held values that your primary aim is to work in a specific work setting or specific specialism. New experiences denoting values more in line with the enablement of a specific lifestyle and a decision to impart acquired knowledge and experience through teaching.

It could be that values related to teamwork, direct clinical practice, and specialist work experiences are now secondary to independent work, relocation, and work flexibility, even if a work security value is diminished creating uncertainty.

Another example could involve a welcomed progression in your job role, but when assessing all new developments it is recognised that specific aspects in value-domain are lost or in contrast, for instance, membership to a specific organisation that has, in fact, been your foundation to performing that specific job role for a significant number of years. Identifying all such sources of conflict is vital in being able to examine the next step of delimiting all potential changes that could be made.

D = Delimiting or demarcating

This stage is concerned with delimiting all contrasts identified at the previous stage, demarcating conflictual value-domains, and not setting goals. For instance, working for a specific network, start publishing academic work and remodel your training to 'complement' rather than work against your role, contractual employment, lifestyle, professional network and alliances.

Another example could simply be to temporarily seek a work-life balance adjustment, as this is one way of resolving competing demands at a value level. For instance, investment in family life, work, and various life events that would occur, such as parenting, civic duties, etc. A change could be introduced only after recognising a variety of challenges aligned to your adhered value-domains.

A = Aligning

When specific conflictual value-domains are identified in the previous stage, all existing non-conflictual values can be aligned to sought changes, offering a clear understanding of remaining options. It could simply be that a departmental restructuring could offer you an opportunity for both retraining and relocating. It could be that other value-domains may become more prominent through specific changes, for instance, extended family or kinship, greater involvement in the community, etc.

Political and spiritual domain-values could become resurgent or emerging at any point in time during various historical periods, dependent on both impacts on employment and your specialist field. Union membership, political unrest, and economical-social cultural levels are at all times going to influence a set value system, but in a specific period, such changes can be more acute than at other times.

There's no need to refer to such examples that are current and persistent. An adjustment to an existing role would have a profound impact on various factors. For instance, a specific advancement in career would involve gaining a specific skillset and attributes that were previously not assessed as a challenge. Various individual circumstances are also going to highlight a clear need to review existing goals/tasks (long-term, medium-term and short-term), which is the next step.

T = Tasks

This penultimate step is assigned to devising an action plan and creating related specific tasks. For instance, in the case of the previous example with highly specialised training, possible tasks could involve an assessment of further career development, and strictly investing newly acquired specialised knowledge in developing interdepartmental relationships, networking, working for various organisations, etc. It could also involve acquiring new skills and training. Networking and communication are crucial aspects to consider during such a stage.

E = Empowered/enabled

The final step involves a review of your previous steps and devising an action plan. A sense of re-confirmed values and expectations through such an introspection could be identified and, if not, at the very least clarification of your work-related goals is required.

To conclude, it is needless to say that if a career progression is your next step, but anxieties around such a task are present, completion of this exercise could offer you a clear picture of existing conflict and inform set tasks ahead. Good luck!

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Madalina Day PGCert BA (Hons) BSc Psychodynamic and CBT MBACP(R) EACLIPT Member

I have a Psychodynamic and a CBT background training and my practice developed mainly within the NHS working as an NHS staff counsellor in London. I have worked with workplace stress protocol throughout my practice in the NHS setting and in many ways that may define what I am very good at and passionate as a practitioner.… Read more

Written by Madalina Day PGCert BA (Hons) BSc Psychodynamic and CBT MBACP(R) EACLIPT Member

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