By Holly LeMaster

“Unprecedented.” Do you find yourself rolling your eyes when you hear this word lately? I sure do. We seem to be hearing the term with increasing frequency as people struggle to define the seemingly constant barrage of experiences we’ve never encountered before. It feels as though time is speeding up and like we are asked, day in and day out, to adapt to new and different circumstances, conditions, ideas, and ways of being in the world.

Our psychological ability as human beings to manage the chaos and complexity that comes with these times of unprecedented change is stretched. Sometimes, it feels, even stretched beyond our capacity to cope. Not only do we have to manage ourselves, but most of us are also challenged by the impact of change on others – our families and friends, our organizations and communities – perhaps even a team that we lead. 

When we teach change leadership in organizations, we share the following formula for success:

S x C = E

Solutions x Commitment = Effectiveness

What this tells us is that there are two crucial components to navigating an organizational change effectively:

  1. The solution, or plan, is the process-oriented, intellectual, tactical aspect of thinking through and problem-solving to address the change.
  2. The commitment aspect speaks to human engagement, readiness, willingness, and ability to step into the change. 

Generally speaking, the “S” is the easy part. Most organizations are pretty good at figuring this out. But you can have the best laid plans in the world and, if your people aren’t on board, you’ll still miss the mark. People need to be committed, engaged, involved, and inspired to make it through the challenges and uncertainties related to constant change. 

So you see, what we actually need to address is the transition that people will go through related to change. The change itself is the event, the circumstances, the things that are happening. One thing, situation, or way of being ends and another, different one, begins. Transition, on the other hand, is the human experience of being in the change as it happens. It is psychological, can be subtle (or dramatic!), and highly personal. 

Whenever change happens, some people may stand to win (and therefore will be happy about embracing the change) while some may feel they are losing something (and will be unhappy and perhaps resistant). It’s important to remember that any given change will impact members of the team or the organization differently, and that individual concerns need to be addressed empathetically.

As leaders, by the time we announce an organizational change, chances are that we’ve had awhile to get used to the idea. We’ve been in meetings and conversations, likely even involved in planning for and shaping what’s coming. So when we initially announce a change to our team, we need to be sensitive to the reality that they will need some time to let it sink in and understand what it means for them.

What are some strategies for helping others adapt and embrace change? 

Explain the “why.” For some people, clearly understanding the motivation and reasoning behind a decision will help them get on board. 

Connect to values. It is easier for people to embrace a change that supports something that’s deeply meaningful or important to them. 

Listen and involve. Wherever possible, solicit people’s opinions and ideas, give them a sense of ownership, and involve them in decision-making processes. 

Practice empathy. Know that others’ perspectives may be very different from your own; be open to understanding and adapting. 

Tell them what you know. Even if you don’t have all the answers, share what you do know and what you are able to. Let them know you will give more information when you can.

Encourage experimentation. Explain that new ideas or processes may not be 100% perfect from the onset; that it’s okay to course-correct, try something different, or let go of something if it’s not working.

In these times of unprecedented ambiguity and change, it’s important to hold many things lightly, knowing that the way things are today (whether we like them or not) may not be the way they are tomorrow. Our ability to be flexible and agile, with an open mind, open heart, and the courage to keep learning, growing, and evolving will serve us – and those we lead – well.