Understanding Change

August 31, 2021


How much change have you already encountered in your career?

If you’ve had the good fortune of having built your administrative career without ever using carbon paper and having had to wipe your fingertips clean of its ink smudges, consider yourself fortunate. If your first keyboard was mounted on a typewriter, you may have begun using a computer with a massive monitor and WordPerfect software … only to transition not long after to Word.

Having left the career for a few years in my mid-twenties, my re-entry to an office environment coincided nicely with Word’s emergence as the dominant software. I remember, though, just how daunting a change it was for some of my new colleagues to unlearn WordPerfect shortcuts and adapt to the new software. More than a few of them were vocal in expressing their preference for sticking with the familiar.

The fact is, however briefly or long you’ve been an administrative professional, you routinely accommodate change. It doesn’t matter whether you work remotely, in a two-person office, or as part of a multinational corporation; change is part of this career. Think of the meetings and functions you plan and schedule. Then consider just how frequently you adapt to, negotiate or initiate your own changes to schedules, agendas, meetings, travel and much more.

There’s more to come: think IR4.0

The scope of change isn’t limited to schedules and events, of course. We’ve embarked upon the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as IR4.0 and Industry 4.0. Some refer to this era as transformational, while others have labelled it The Great Disruption. The term “digital disruption” has become part of the lexicon, and artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition are on the rise. We’re advised to anticipate three waves of automation and, while some roles are more susceptible than others to automation, we can and should at minimum anticipate changes to how assistants and other administrative professionals perform their jobs.

When it comes to change, we can bundle it into three categories: developmental, transitional and transformational.

Different types of change may trigger different reactions

Developmental change

Developmental change impacts how business is done, or refinement of workflow. If your finance department updates its procedures or expense claim forms, those represent developmental changes. They may directly impact how you do your work. You may or may not be enamoured of those new procedures for completing expense or other reports, but such changes aren’t earth shattering.

Transitional change

A transitional change can have a more substantial impact. This type of change involves replacement of a process or the status quo; it implies dismantling one established business process or state in order to implement a new one. Adoption of new office technology is a prime example, as is the creation of a new product, service or even corporate logo. Transitional change is often marked by project management and timelines. A changing of the guard, in the form of organizational restructuring, mergers or acquisitions, also constitutes transitional change.

Out with the old and in with the new is sometimes easier said than done. Letting go of that familiar email system, logo or corporate structure and accepting the new one is more significant than adjusting to a developmental change. When transitional change is planned, you’re likely to be invited to a meeting or directed to online information for communication of the change and its probable and possible impacts. You may be encouraged to ask questions and can anticipate regular updates. If it’s a new system, service or product that’s being introduced, you can also anticipate training or familiarization with the new offering.

Transformational change

Transformational change is the big one. It can involve both developmental and transitional changes in order to completely revamp the organisation’s strategy and processes. An organization might overhaul its strategy, operations, technology, services, products, culture and/or its processes. It’s often viability that drives transformational change, and factors can include increased competition, regulatory changes, changes in market conditions or customers’ needs and expectations … and, of course, new or changing technology.

Transformational changes don’t necessarily suggest negative market conditions; an organization may make transformational changes (as in automating warehouses) in order to meet increased demand for its services or products. Whatever the drivers, such substantial change can be unsettling. Some colleagues may fear job loss, or that they’ll be unable to remain relevant or keep up with the pace of change.

How well do you generally adapt to change?

The RC factor: resistance to change

I’m lucky. For whatever reason, I thrive on change and it’s been a staple of my own career path. I mentioned having left the admin. world in my mid-twenties; that’s because I was afforded an opportunity to become a trainer for the same national company in which I worked. I travelled to our corporate headquarters, halfway across the continent, for Train the Trainer education.

One of the concepts to which we were exposed was the “RC” factor, or resistance to change. There are different reasons individuals may resist change. These can range from a poor approach to change implementation to concerns over status, mistrust, fear of the unknown or failure, and more. Those colleagues who resisted the transition from WordPerfect to Word software weren’t being difficult; some of them liked WordPerfect. Some, who may have been daunted in making the shift from typewriters to PCs and WordPerfect with its shortcuts, were concerned about tackling yet another unknown product and a whole new series of keystroke commands.


  • About the Author: Shelagh Donnelly educates and inspire assistants on topics ranging from meetings and minutes to business acumen, cybersecurity and working with boards. She helps assistants nurture their adaptability, productivity and resilience in order to enjoy the career and continue to add value even as roles evolve. An international speaker, Shelagh worked with C-level executives for more than 25 years and is recognized for her governance expertise. Shelagh founded her globally read Exceptional EA website in 2013, and is the author of the upcoming book, The Resilient Assistant.   

This article first appeared in Exceptional EA, a globally respected professional development resource for administrative professionals. Visit to find out more and tell her we sent you

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