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Intro to Change

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change in crisis


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People know when they are in need of a change. It’s unmistakable by the way they feel, think, act. The words “unstable,” “dangerous,” “breakdown,” “unplanned,” “stressful,” and “unexpected” occur over and over again whether the situation is professional, personal, or community-wide.

Immediate Responses to Change

Individuals may take actions that are counter-productive to solving the situation, such as quitting a job or leaving a relationship. Leaders may react off the cuff and terminate employees or organizations can shutdown programs to try and stop the hemorrhage that often comes when change is necessary. The reason, it’s normal to have these knee-jerk reactions is due to our stress response. It’s the same, unconscious motion our body makes when we touch a hot surface. We instinctively react to protect ourselves.

Energy and effort for the following are essential to limiting the duration of the difficult situation and navigating it with predictable results:

  1. Restore stability

    • Identify what’s working and continue.
    • Pinpoint what’s out of control or not working and pause it.
    • Return to the basics.
    • Simplify core elements (health, wealth, communication, relationships, development).
  2. Remove danger

    Danger can be both figurative and literal in a crisis situations. One can be in danger of losing their job, partner, relationship, or life. Companies might be in danger of losing their market status, key employees, technological edge, and more. Removing danger starts with critical decision making, in which the stress response shuts down during crises. It’s a catch-22. So the first step in removing danger is to ask, “Why?” Answering this question with analyzed facts and evidence provides critical details on removing dangers.

Tip: Getting to the root of issues can be more difficult than first attempts. Use the 5 Why’s method of breaking down complex situations.

  1. Follow a plan

    Other steps are important to successfully making changes, following a plan is the make or break moment. To follow a plan requires forethought, intention, strategy, creativity, and collaboration. Each of these traits slows the stress response by the sense of being in control.

  2. Build up resilience

    Learn where the end of your comfort zone is and use several techniques to push past it. Some examples include:

    • Practice mindfulness techniques.
    • Use Exposure Therapy.
    • Expressive writing.
    • Focus on what is within your control.
  3. Remove the element of surprise

    Unexpected events are the most devastating when change occurs. One goes through the punishing outcomes of the situation while also experiencing personal emotions of grief, loss, failure, and shock. Think of a time when a loved one dropped a bomb on you or the biggest client, whom you were so sure was loyal, decided to jump ship. The situational adjustments that need to be made are easier to manage than personal emotions. Remove the element of surprise by being proactive, auditing, and validating.

Common Mistakes in Responding to Change

In Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model, the first step in promoting change is to create urgency. Dr. Kotter warns in his book “A Sense of Urgency”, that urgency is not equivalent to running-around taking needless action but instead “focuses on critical issues.” In one case he cites, “Instead of mobilizing people into action, the crisis led many managers into making fewer decisions because they didn’t want to be accused of mistakes.”
Research by various authorities has identified six common mistakes in responding to a situation:

  • Underestimating risks.
  • Slowing down the decision making.
  • Underestimating damage to stakeholders.
  • Insufficient analysis.
  • Underestimating past experience or neglecting to see the value in the current experience.
  • Lack of reserve resources.

Successfully Making Change

The success of any change is governed by four factors:

  • Planning:

    Was anyone monitoring potential crises? Has any preparation been made to handle difficult situations? Will the proposed change(s) help resolve the situation? The questions asked and answered create the plan.

  • Information & Communication:

    Is there too much or too little information? Can the information be trusted? How is the information communicated? In a crisis, a communication strategy is imperative. Tone, delivery, message, the messenger, timing are all elements of communication used to share information in a clear and concise manner.

  • Leadership:

    Are leaders acting too quickly or not at all? Have they involved the right people? Are their choices compassionate? Leaders are the backbone of every unit. Parents for the family, C-suites for a company, boards for non-profits are leaders that members look to for confidence in their future.

  • Resources:

    Time, money, training, vendors, space, materials are some resources members rely on during a time of change to create adequate solutions. They also rely on these resources for coping methods to manage their stress and ways in which to maneuver and meet their needs.

Making Lasting Change

Changes last when people understand them and the events that prompted them; the people in charge are honestly committed to and passionate about the change; everyone affected feels they have an essential role in the change; and the change is in line with values and goals.

The best outcome from any change is learning, so that planning, communication, leadership, commitment, and resources are strengthened before the next situation occurs.

Key Takeaways

Successfully making changes starts with having an intentional and immediate response, minimizing mistakes, and drawing from previous experiences. To do this well takes multiple perspectives, collaboration, planning, and resourcefulness. The way in which information is communicated is vital to gaining understanding and buy-in from internal and external stakeholders.

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