Post Covid Change Management Still Needs to Address Human Hardwiring

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) have recently released an analysis promoting the need to reinvent the “change management playbook” in a post Covid-19 world. [1]  We agree that in a world where change is happening so rapidly, and with increasing complexity, that some old tried and tested methods of change management are no longer having the same impact. Of course, we don’t need to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’; but we do need to think differently to respond to different times; we need to recognise that more than ever the very human fear of, and resistance to, change is where the change management attention is required. As humans we are wired to resist change – our brains crave certainty and predictability, two concepts that do not sit with change. We are also conditioned to move away from threats and the unfamiliar, and so it is a very typical human trait to avoid the unknown and the uncertain.

Now is the time to test and learn

Leaders can help transition their people from this state of unknowing with more information in more diverse ways, using different channels. Employees need to be able to ask questions, to be included and involved. They also need to feel confident that it is ok to try and fail and to try again. Leaders must create an environment where there are plenty of learning opportunities so that new ways to adapt existing skills can be found. Currently many companies are reinstating their previously stood down workforce in phases. This staggered approach allows for testing and learning. We agree with HBR’s premise that now is the time to take advantage of a changing workplace and test new change tools and processes.[2] And leaders should:

Lean more into the art of change management than the science, making determinations in the moment about which steps and tools are needed and which aren’t likely to add value that surpasses the lost value of delays.[3]

Where no certainty, try for clarity

Although, leaders may not be able to provide certainty, they can focus on clarity. They can provide people clarity over what they are doing (even if it is just for today or this week), so people can gain some control in a world that is changing at an unprecedented rate. And everything is changing – the language, the way we work and where we work and with whom – this is all evolving as we work out how to move forward in our complex, post 2020 world. Let people have as much control as you can, even if it is just small part of a process, project or operational activity. People need to feel that they have some control of the contribution that they are making to the organisation’s purpose and also to the change process to get there. [4]

Be open and clear that you don’t have all the answers, but when you do…

Be open and clear – as leaders, you need to convey that you don’t have all the answers, but you are trying to get more information to share and when you do, it will be shared; until then, you can build trust by providing insights and updates where possible and establishing open two-way communication process to gather feedback. Remember that emotions play an enormous role in how people act during times of high stress, anxiety and uncertainty. We cannot state strongly enough that a considered change and communication approach plays one of the most significant roles in assisting people’s journey through change.[5] Communication about even minor details of how the change will impact your people will be appreciated and lessen their “unknowingness”. Similarly, to providing people with an opportunity to be included as a part of the change, a well thought out change and communications path can give your people a sense of more control and awareness of what lies ahead.

Progress not perfection

There is no place for perfection, we need to have a bias for action and if the action does not result in the outcome we want, we need to go back and try again, but stalling until it is ‘just right’ has never and will never work. HBR reaffirm that now is not the time to stall. Of course, effective change management cannot happen overnight but “there are ways to accelerate change in an increasingly fast-paced and uncertain world.”[6] Organisations that show agility and are able to anticipate change, identify opportunities, plus quickly deploy teams are likely to prosper in the new norm.

The change environment is more ambiguous than ever, it feels chaotic, messy and the ‘grey-area’ is here to stay. Leaders need to remember the variety of human emotions that their people will be experiencing in these times of ambiguity. Understanding how you and your people tolerate and respond to ambiguity will help you all to better understand how to move through it; you cannot control it, but you can learn to find the opportunity in it. Leaders need to find a way to tolerate the ambiguity and build adaptability!


[1] https://hbr.org/2021/01/an-agile-approach-to-change-management

[2] https://hbr.org/2021/01/an-agile-approach-to-change-management

[3] https://hbr.org/2021/01/an-agile-approach-to-change-management

[4] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/covid-19-and-the-employee-experience-how-leaders-can-seize-the-moment

[5] https://www.ey.com/en_gl/workforce/five-ways-organizations-can-help-employees-shift-from-fear-to-resilience

[6] https://hbr.org/2021/01/an-agile-approach-to-change-management