Change Happens

picture of a woman with an umbrella in a windstorm

To suggest that we live in changing times is a bit like standing in the midst of a hurricane and commenting on the breeze. Incessant change has become the norm. And it’s not enough for today’s organizations to become resilient in the face of change, they have to become good at initiating change before it’s forced upon them by circumstance. In other words, change doesn’t just happen anymore. More and more often, you have to grit your teeth and make it happen!

The US military describes the current reality as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) and suggests that change managers stop trying to control things and concentrate on becoming adept at dancing with chaos. Or, as Tim Glover, consultant and “change artist” recommends in a recent interview: businesses need to embrace change and accept VUCA as the new norm so they can better prepare for change and disruption. “You can’t control things,” he adds, “Even the best predictions are more wrong than right.”[1]

Leading Change

Sharlyn Lauby writes[2] that high performing companies, those who outperform their industry averages by 50-150%[3], are exceptionally good at managing change. They do it with a combination of preparedness and agility that allows them to identify and respond to emerging threats and opportunities more effectively than their competitors.

But how can an organization and its leaders cultivate preparedness in an environment that is VUCA?

It all comes down to what you choose to prepare for and your perspective on change. It’s not possible to prepare for the exact changes your organization will face. You can, however, be more prepared for change in general, by implementing a few key practices:

  • Actively educate yourself about your industry and the broader environment so emerging trends don’t blind-side you.
  • Engage your team in visioning possible future scenarios and consider how you would respond to them.
  • Continually review and question current practices to determine how they can be improved upon; and then improve them.
  • Think about ways your industry might be disrupted and how you could get ahead of it (or become the disruptor).
  • Create an environment where questioning the status quo is the norm.
  • Strive to be a learning organization[4], continuously working to improve what you do and how you do it.

Help Your People be Change Ready

Resistance to change is natural. No matter how well we understand the need for change and the potential benefits that change will bring, most of us still resist. Apparently, this is both a psychological and physiological response. Brain function researchers have found a variety of reasons why our knee-jerk reaction to change is negative—here are three examples of recent findings that affect people’s ability to deal with change [5]:

  1. Because of the way long-term and operating memory works, change to routine requires a lot of mental energy. This can trigger actual physical discomfort as the brain struggles to over-write old thought and behavior patterns.
  2. The brains natural survival tactic of detecting and signalling errors as potential threats causes an automatic rejection response when reality differs from expectations. Daniel Goleman describes this as the “amygdala hijack[6]” in his book, Emotional Intelligence.
  3. Expectations shape reality to a far greater degree than previously believed. Without insight into their own preconceptions, people literally can’t see or understand a different perspective.

It’s not enough for leaders in an organization to embrace change readiness as a strategic advantage. They also have to help their people understand what causes the automatic (and natural) resistance to change they are experiencing and show them how to overcome instinctive responses to change, so they can view change more rationally and strategically. Of course, before people will open up to that challenging conversation, first they need to be heard and their instinctive concerns need to be addressed.

Working with Change: From Surviving to Thriving

In order to thrive in an environment where change is the norm, both the leadership of an organization and the individuals that make up the workforce must develop a level of resilience and responsiveness that helps them overcome the brain’s natural resistance to change. They need to arrive at a place where change is no longer seen as a threat, but rather as an exciting, challenging and normal part of the day’s work. Getting to that point takes time, energy and commitment, but the benefits of achieving a high-performance culture, resilient in the face of change are huge for everyone involved.


Help support your people through change with NetSuite TribeHR.

Photo credit: Photo by Vlado, courtesy of

[1] Rick Spence, The Financial Post, Get a leg up on your competitors by adapting to change and disruption.

[2] Sharlyn Lauby, High Performing Companies Know How to Manage Change

[3] Olli Lauren and Morten Tveit, How exceptional companies create a high-performance culture.

[4] Peter Senge and the Learning Organization

[5] David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, The Neuroscience of Leadership.

[6] Dr. Relly Nadler, What Was I Thinking? Handling the Hijack.

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