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The Art of Progress Change Management Inc. - Change Resiliency

Change Resiliency

Posted on Oct 24, 2013 by Kait Dinunzio

Small budding green plant breaking from dark soil

change [cheynj] verb, changed, chang·ing, noun

verb (used with object)

  1. to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone: to change one's name; to change one's opinion; to change the course of history.
  2. to transform or convert (usually followed by into  ): The witch changed the prince into a toad.
  3.  to substitute another or others for; exchange for something else, usually of the same kind: She changed her shoes when she got home from the office.
  4. to give and take reciprocally; interchange: to change places with someone.
  5. to transfer from one (conveyance) to another: You'll have to change planes in Chicago.


re·sil·ience [ri-zil-yuh ns, -zil-ee-uh ns]


  1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
  2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

Also, re·sil·ien·cy.

In change leadership, there is a new wave emerging around how a person, group or organization changes.  The terms we’ve heard in the past three or four years around change used to be about agility; it used to be about how easily an organization could shift it’s ideals to meet market needs or perhaps new technology.  Enterprises even went so far as to add this into how they positioned their front line staff and emergent leaders to be successful.  How “agile” one is determines pay increases, bonuses and promotions. 

When I think of agility, sports conditioning comes to mind.  Paul Balsom, Head Coach at the Athlete Factory in Calgary, Alberta says, “The key to agility is not so much being able to change direction, but to accelerate out of the change.  This doesn’t just require footwork, but a very specific body position, high levels of dynamic stability and a powerful posterior chain.” 

Two individuals with green shorts doing agility training in a gym.I can’t quite get the image of CEO’s and Vice Presidents in suits skipping through an agility ladder or through a cone drill, with each rung or cone marked with a different corporate change out of my head when I think of the term “change agility”.  This makes me wonder how being agile is really sustainable in corporate change, if at all. Anyone who’s ever done an agility drill would know that if done properly, it’s exactly as Paul describes it.  At first, it’s never about getting your foot in a precise spot, but rather, it’s about getting your foot in between the cones or rungs.  You need to work at building dynamic stability and power in your posterior chain, which comes from how you train your body.  With change, we often find ourselves stepping on the rungs, kicking cones or even failing and falling down; this is normal in how we learn.  Eventually, you get better at the drills because you become used to the movement, the pattern of the cones or the ladder drill itself, your posterior chain becomes strong and you gain stability in your core.  That’s not really change, that’s what we call “becoming the norm” through growth and practice. It also doesn’t do much more than teach someone how to react to change direction.  This mentality works in sport because we become predictable in spatial awareness and movement; possibly even stronger.  However; in the business world it becomes a detriment because we render ourselves incapable of being able to truly become flexible to new changes as they crop up.    

There’s a refreshing development happening in the change leadership industry. New terms suggest that individuals need to become resilient in change. In 1995, Gordon helped establish the public definition of resiliency as “the ability to thrive, mature, and increase competence in the face of adverse circumstances.” That sounds about right when you’re talking about the topic of change, doesn’t it?  Things change and we (people) react by going into shock, anger, bargaining and so on. 

It’s exciting to see the industry connections being made between the process of change and mental health; there are individuals in the change industry who acknowledge it and recognize the impact change can have on people, but I don’t believe individual change leaders have specifically linked the effects of major change on individuals’ mental health.  Many people hear the words “mental health” and immediately think of common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety or bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia; these aren’t really what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the fact that mental health is so much more than whether or not someone has a mental illness. Poor mental health isn’t very good for people, organizations and society in general. Having mental health is just like having physical health, if you don’t have it, you are not well (healthy), period. You have to consider the WHOLE person in change, including the mental health and wellness of those being affected. People who are mentally healthy are said to be “flourishing”; this means they feel engaged, are thriving, living with purpose and are generally happy, productive and fulfilled in life. An unplanned or poorly executed organizational change can severely impact and limit one’s ability to flourish.  In some cases, corporate initiatives are capable of driving people into the throes of depression or anxiety, forcing them into a completely different spectrum.  The risks around these are increased when changes haven’t been well planned or executed.  This is where resilience in change can help people continue to flourish throughout change, or at the very least, be ready to flourish again when the change has subsided and normalized.  

So how can we help our leaders, colleagues and clients become change resilient?  Here are my top five picks:

  1. Help leaders become the face of their change and understand why change leadership is so important through quality materials, presentations and communications. Ensure there are metrics in place to give them hard facts on how change leadership will ensure success. 
  2. Provide change resiliency training to leaders and staff.  This can be done through 1:1 coaching sessions, larger classroom sessions or embedded into other training opportunities.  Consider adding follow up coaching sessions with leaders to confirm the learning and encourage them to “walk the talk”.
  3. Take the time to plan every aspect of your change.  Define the problem, understand your stakeholder groups and take the time to work with your project manager or leadership team to develop a strategy for managing change. Don’t step into the limelight of execution until you’ve worked the upstream and midstream change process.  Too soon = anxiety for people, anxiety = poor mental health and can lead to a languishing, unproductive workforce.
  4. Include very honest and transparent communications in your change.  People fear what they don’t know or understand.  If you give them the answers to what they need to know, when you have it available, they’ll be much more willing to participate in the change.  Make sure you create a feedback loop that is confidential and well managed, respond within 24 hours of receiving any feedback communication on your change process.
  5. Help people feel valued and important in the change by making yourself available to attend meetings, go for coffee and share the “inside track” with them.  Don’t be afraid to communicate; most changes don’t impact national security! We tend to place a heightened importance/elitism on being “the first to know”; this manifests fear, anger and can lead to anxiety or hostility during change. 

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