How to Manage Change During a Crisis

28th March 2020Change Management

Managing change is hard at the best of times. How you manage change at a time of crisis is critical.

Within the space of three short months, coronavirus has turned the world on its head.

Overnight, the old certainties are gone.

Carefully made plans lie in tatters.

Fear pervades the immediate future.

We have hard choices to make as the crisis deepens

It’s natural to feel anxious about what the future holds. About how Covid-19 will affect our family and friends. In particular, to worry about what might become of our elderly or vulnerable loved ones.

Whilst we stay at home to stay safe and to stop the infection from spreading, we feel for those brave souls battling on the frontline. The doctors, nurses, carers and essential keyworkers who are exposing themselves daily to the virus to ensure vital services continue.

However, anxiety can overwhelm. It can also paralyse us into inaction. Or, panic us into overreaction.

With this health crisis, which is rapidly turning into an economic and social crisis, we have hard choices to make.

We can be scared, and we can hide. Or, we can complain about the behaviour of others. We can even criticise the measures that the authorities are taking to combat this crisis.

But ultimately, we have a difficult choice to make. Which is:

“To embrace uncertainty, grasp the nettle and adjust – no matter how uncomfortable that may be”

Changes unleashed by coronavirus struck like a lightning bolt

The changes caused by Covid-19 are sudden, unprecedented, and far from over.

The shock that many of us are feeling right now as we enter social distancing and remote working is akin to a deep sense of loss. Because it is true that we are losing – temporarily at least – some hard-won freedoms.

We will therefore go through the 5 stages of grief and loss:

1. Denial, shock, and fear

2. Anger, frustration, and anxiety

3. Depression, helplessness, and flight

4. Bargaining, reaching out, and finding new meaning

5. Acceptance, hope and moving on

Recognising these 5 stages in yourself is the first step to managing change. Helping others on their personal journey through change is the next step.

How to manage change using a human to human approach

If you are a manager or a leader, it is more essential than ever before that you connect on a human level with the individuals in your teams. This involves taking the time to understand where they each are on their own loss continuum.

Also supporting them as they move through the stages of loss so that they reach acceptance and hope as quickly as possible.

As the Harvard Business Review stated in their recent article on crisis management, it is easy to forget human factors amid urgent actions.

Even if you are more adept at managing systems, processes and tools, you will need to switch to a people first approach.

The best way to do this is to be open and honest with colleagues. Express your own feelings and your fears. At this stage no one has all the answers. You can’t actually know what the end game will be.

However, you can acknowledge, empathise and reassure. At the same time, you can communicate messages of support.

Finally, together with your team, you can develop a common purpose. A mission to help you work through the crisis together, manage change and emerge stronger at the other side.

The importance of mindset at a time of crisis

How you come out of the other side of this crisis will be very much driven by your mindset. i.e. how you view the world, your beliefs and the underpinning thoughts that drive your actions.

At a time of crisis, a positive mindset is essential. With so much out of control, it pays to focus on the things that you can manage and influence.

Most importantly, how you manage yourself and your response to circumstances. Likewise, how you influence others through supportive actions and messages of hope.

Be mindful, be compassionate, and above all, be selfless.

The courage to manage change

Adopting a positive mindset in the face of adversity enables you to have the courage to change. It also gives you the courage to take ownership. To be proactive, take tough decisions with imperfect knowledge and do the hard things.

Of course, anticipating the next event in a rapidly evolving crisis is not easy.

By interacting with your community, actively using support networks and listening out for the latest guidance from relevant authorities you stand a greater chance of anticipating the next challenge.

This, in turn, enables you to keep changing as circumstances dictate.

A message of hope at this time of crisis and change

Coronavirus is an unprecedented crisis. Right now, it feels like a ferocious storm that came out of nowhere and is battering the world.

And yet, there is hope. Crises create economic and social change. Some of which will result in change for the better. By anticipating this change, you may even grow stronger than before.

Finally, a message of hope.

“Even the darkest storm eventually runs out of rain”

Adapted from lyrics written by Gary Allan Gary Allan

For more articles on business change, please head over to our business change blog.