How well do we really respond to change?

Last week didn't quite go as planned. In preparation for chairing the PRCA's conference on Exploiting Changing Opportunities, I had been pondering the significance and emotion with which the word 'change' is loaded - only to suffer my own change of plans thanks to the lurgy.

So in the event, it was the PRCA's Patrick Barrow who carried out my quick survey of how the delegates - mainly senior communications consultants - respond to change. They were asked to quickly write down the word they instinctively associated with change.

Perhaps inevitably for an industry so concerned with perception, the poll garnered some fairly management textbook responses, with 63 per cent using terms such as 'positive', 'exciting', 'growth' and 'opportunity'.

But 18 per cent were willing to own up to fear, referring to 'worry' and 'disruption'.

As a rule, human beings don't respond well to change: dread at the idea that the goalposts are shifting is quite normal. Some people will cling on to dysfunctional situations against all reason, while others are realistic enough to realise that, hey, things change - and are flexible enough to shuffle their objectives. And between these two poles lie varying degrees of insecurity and adaptability.

If ever there was a time to find out how PROs respond to change it is now. The media/comms/tech environment - and client expectations - are morphing on an almost daily basis. Talking to corporate comms directors, it is clear that there's a real disconnect developing between the consultancy they are looking for and the services many agencies are trying to sell. Take internal comms.

It is one of the biggest challenges for in-house operators, but directors continually moan that consultancies aren't up to speed enough to help them.

The industry seems to be divided down the middle between those who get it - and are looking at how change impacts every area of their business - and those who acknowledge the issues but are behaving like rabbits in a headlight.

Indeed, I hear the PRCA has been urged to take action by members fearful of the number of ad agencies moving into podcasting. What do they expect: that some kind of old-style union demarcation can hold back the sands of time?

This is certainly not a situation that can be fixed by the involvement of a trade association. Success or failure is about individuals adapting.

Inflexibility is not an option.

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