In Change Management

uncertaintyI ran a webinar for APMG International offering tips and ideas to build change resilience when working in an environment of uncertainty and emergent change. The main focus was on what we can do to support ourselves, our teams and others in our organisations.

Although the webinar took place during the pandemic the ideas covered should be valuable in any situation where there is volatility, uncertainty, complexity or ambiguity. Having any of these elements present can leave us vulnerable so developing resilience to change is vital.

Our brains are wired to look out for threat; both physical and emotional. When we spot one, our threat system is triggered and releases lots of chemicals, to either fight the threat, freeze (so it doesn’t notice us) or run away (flight). This uses lots of energy and can make us emotional, irrational and anxious. When we feel safe from the threat our brains are driven towards rewards. Focusing on rewards is a nicer place to be; creative, feeling good and logical. We are far calmer and so can work more effectively.

Building resilience to change

Building change resilience is about finding ways to help people move towards reward. The webinar pulled out six ways to help us spend more time heading towards reward.

  • Building self-esteem – so we have a stronger sense of self and don’t feel so threatened by uncertainty
  • Developing a sense of purpose – it is motivating to be reaching towards something meaningful
  • Maintaining autonomy – to keep a sense of control and that we have some choice
  • Finding a few things over which you can be certain – again to feel some level of control
  • Securing a sense of equity – because nothing makes us feel threatened faster than feeling we are being treated unfairly
  • Social connection – we are social beings and it feels nice to know others have our back.

To remain in that logical reward zone, and out of the emotional place of threat, we need to organise our minds. Feeling overwhelmed with too much going on and no sense of structure is the perfect place for fear and threat to fester. To become more aware of concerns and to be able to set up a virtual filing system in our brain to feel more in control we need to name our thoughts and emotions; to label them. Research shows putting feelings into words helps us handle them better and regulate them more effectively.

It also helps to be clear on priorities, identify small steps to move forward, reflect, learn and adapt. Making the reflection process part of a regular routine means you can keep on tweaking what you do to ensure things work more effectively for you.

For developing more social connection, especially in a more virtual world, we need communication channels that allow both formal and informal communication. The informal contact to establish trust and the more formal interactions to set direction, priorities and track progress. Having both offers time and opportunity to check assumptions and understanding and incorporate feedback loops. This also helps ensure a sense of fairness that is so important across teams.

Resilience in the face of change

Taking all this into account, here are four ways leaders and managers can help people in organisations remain resilient in the face of change:

  • Communicate regularly with compassion, empathy, honesty and openness
  • Develop ways to maintain trust and empathy so people know you have their back even in times of uncertainty
  • Keep people focused on purpose and values so everyone feels a sense of contributing to something bigger
  • Establish guidance and boundaries to give people a sense of certainty.


If you want to listen to and watch the webinar you can find the recording of the live webinar below.


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