How Elements of Change Management Can Help in a Crisis

By Sharon Ford posted 03-19-2020 13:45

Co - authored by: Sharon Ford & Paul Duffy

How Elements of Change Management Can Help in a Crisis


We have heard that change is the new normal, but in a time of crisis, with increased uncertainty, some of the elements important in change management can help place structure around our response and provide a level of calm.

 Leadership, leadership, leadership.  The single most important factor in any successful change is engaged, visible, and supportive leadership.  The two people we most want to hear from are the person at the top (the President, Prime Minister, CEO, Managing Partner), and the person we report to – at work that’s our direct supervisor.  When there are multiple levels of leadership, and multiple sources of communication, consistency is vital. The leaders must be aligned. Mixed messages can sow the seeds of confusion at a time when clarity is even more important. It’s also important to remember that leadership is a role and not a title, and like a hat, it can be worn by anyone - we can all be leaders.

Give people a sense of control.  No one likes it when change is done to them, but in a crisis that is unavoidable. Eliminating uncertainty and engaging people can help, but how do leaders do this when so much is unknown? The best way to begin is with honest, transparent communication. Transparency instills trust, and even something as simple as giving a date for the next communication can provide a sense of reassurance. Bringing predictability to the timing of the message, even when the detail of the content might be unknown, is one reason change managers work with a communication plan.

 Listen.  There are two sides to communication, and as the adage goes, "we were given two ears and one mouth, and we should be using them in that ratio." However, in a crisis, when people need to listen most, we commonly have the least capacity to do so. Mobilizing a change network can help.  Local formal and informal leaders can act as another bridge to connect to a larger group and share consistent messages and needs.

 Stay on point.  Stay focused on the things you can control, share what you can, but don’t overwhelm.  It’s okay to say the same three most important things over and over.  Consistency of message from a trusted leader can bring calm, practical guidance, and an element of predictably to uncertain times.

 In addition to the tips above, a Change Plan (using the Prosci ADKAR model) can help navigate the crisis.