Resilient Organizations = Better Change Management

By Kristin Withrow posted 15 days ago


By Melissa Asher, PMP, SCP, Senior Leader, CPS HR Consulting
light bulb change color

If COVID-19 has highlighted one thing, it is that we can change quickly when we have to.

We changed almost overnight to a virtual working environment.  We didn’t have lots of meetings about how we were going to “manage change.”  We didn’t identify a “change manager” and no one developed a long, drawn out “change management strategy” using one of the many “change models.”  Nor did we coddle those who are typically “change resistant.”  We didn’t select “change champions,” write extensive “change management plans,” or follow up with our organization’s leaders to make sure they were “leading the change” effort effectively.

We just did what had to be done in the moment…which came with a lot of change: working from our kitchens, electronic signatures for everything, video conference board meetings, and my favorite, Zoom happy hours with friends. No one said, “But we have always done it that way.” We rolled up our sleeves and tried new things.

There is something to be learned from this crisis about how we can manage/lead/drive (fill in the verb) change. But it’s not just about what is happening today. History tells us we need a new approach, too. Despite all of our efforts to make change easier, according to research spanning the last 20 years, over 70% of change initiatives fail. 

What COVID-19 has shown us is that when change is necessary, we can do so in spectacular ways. We can cut through red tape, we can move fast, and we can innovate. With virtually no notice, whole districts adapted to serving customers and running operations remotely and safely.

How can we harness what we have learned from our COVID-19 experience and better manage change going forward? We need to focus on building more resilient organizations that are better prepared to be decisive and equipped to act on decisions quickly.

Resilience is defined by most as the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.  In other words, the ability to bounce back…and bounce back better. Resilient people generally possess three characteristics:

  1. A staunch acceptance of reality
  2. A deep belief, often grounded in values, that life is meaningful
  3. An uncanny ability to improvise

This sounds a lot like what we are going through, without even realizing we are building resiliency. To be fair we didn’t have a choice: But the point is, resilient people and organizations may not need a choice.  They can roll with the punches, meaning they are less disrupted by change, and for shorter durations.

Resilience is about creating an environment where we expect continuous change, and as we adapt we view the successes and setbacks as positive learning experiences. We aren’t victims who perceive themselves as threatened in some way waiting for change to happen.  We don’t become survivors who believe we are at the mercy of circumstances and focus only on self-protection. We become navigators who cultivate a belief that we can deal competently with any situation.  We act, instead of being acted upon.

Resilience is about acting; it is what you do. Here are eight things you can do to build resiliency in your organization:

  1. Anticipate Change: Have a focused sense of urgency that is always anticipating change. A little bit of stress or paranoia can be a good thing. Turns out there is a curvilinear relationship between stress and performance. Too much or too little stress results in poor performance, but just the right amount of stress will actually increase performance.  This is a delicate balance, but the message is, "avoid complacency."
  2. Change Your Mindset: Embrace an abundance mindset, an “anything is possible if we try” mindset. Too often we get stuck in a scarcity mindset focusing on limitations when, in fact, there are countless options if we free our thinking.
  3. Delegate Authority: Delegate decision-making and authority to your front-line employees and provide them with resources for rapid execution to do the right thing for customers and the organization. This means trusting employees and having supervisors act as coaches so that your front-line gets better and better at this.
  4. Review and Revise Goals: Recognize we are all in a constant state of transformation and reset goals more regularly. Gone are the days of the five-year strategic plan.  You should be revisiting strategic goals every year and not be afraid to reset them.
  5. Hire Resilient People: Focus on attracting and hiring people with resilient tendencies. Resiliency can be learned, but why not adjust your hiring practices to bring in people who already exhibit resilient behaviors.
  6. Embrace Cross-Functional Teams: Break down vertical and horizontal silos that slow things down. Flatten the hierarchy and create cross-functional work and communication opportunities.  This will facilitate applying what works in one area to another area, breaking down fiefdoms, and encouraging employees to problem-solve using the whole picture, not just their one area.
  7. Encourage Learning: Make lifelong learning a cornerstone of your culture. When we are continually learning new things, we expand our thinking and are naturally more open to change. Constant learning keeps our minds agile and open. There is no limit to the potential for our brains to grow if we regularly exercise them.
  8. Facilitate Continuous Improvement: Frequently question the status quo. Cultivate a healthy obsession with continuous improvement or even total reinvention. Ask questions about how things can be done better, faster, differently, or more streamlined. “Because we’ve always done it that way” is the death knoll of resiliency.

Our response to COVID-19 proves that overnight we can create a new normal, no questions asked. Let’s recognize the power in what we have accomplished thus far, and how quickly we changed without formalizing a change management plan. Put some things in place to recognize and build resilient teams who can think and act in an ever-changing environment. And constantly scan the horizon looking for new ways to adapt to, or even anticipate, customer needs.

Let’s face it, while COVID-19 may be the most disruptive event in our lifetime, this won’t be the last unplanned change we confront. As we continue to embrace our new normal, now is a good opportunity to rethink how we better prepare our organizations and people for the next crisis.



Melissa Asher is a Senior Leader at CPS HR Consulting, leading their Training and Development and Recruitment Solutions divisions. CPS HR Consulting provides integrated HR solutions to the public sector. We offer unrivaled expertise in organizational strategy, recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, and training and development.