Managing Change

Dr. Chris E. Stout
July 17, 2009 — 2,545 views  
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Change can be difficult. I work in a healthcare setting, so clinical change in a patient is a key focus for our clinical staff, but the "change" I am referring to herein concerns how one can deal with the challenges of organizational change in today's environment.

Many of us have experienced changes in our organizations, in the marketplace, or in the environs in which we operate. Paradoxically change seems to be the new status quo. Things flare-up and settle down in both good economic times and bad. Some of our fellow staff may retire or perhaps have been laid off, or some simply move on for various reasons-going back to school, moving with a spouse who has been relocated, and the like. Those remaining may feel the emotional loss of a friend,  co-worker, or reliable employee. We may also feel the intellectual loss of no longer having their "institutional" brainpower. Some may feel the stress of the added burden of having to fill in for their absence. All of these aspects impact us, no matter if we are line-staff, middle managers, or corporate leaders. For some the feeling may be resentment, while for others it could be "survivor guilt."

Times like these place new demands on all levels of staff. Leaders have to make very difficult decisions, and perhaps make the hard calls that are just as unpopular as they are necessary. It's tempting for some to sit back and be critical; however, I have come to realize that you can deeply care about what happens to others, but not be in a position to give them everything they want.

A few years ago I started pilot lessons. While flying is a very precise business- logging flight plans before taking off, checks and double checks of the aircraft, analyzing the current and predicted weather patterns, knowing specific rules of the air, and paying attention to an instrument panel filled with gauges to provide unambiguous information on a myriad of variables-I was surprised to learn that in spite of all that detailed exactness, for around 80% of the time in the air, one is NOT flying on course. Flying is really the art and science of constant recalibration and adjustment to ever-changing conditions of weather, pressure, headwinds/tailwinds, etc....or, put another way, dealing with and responding to constant change in various seen and unseen ways. Sound familiar?

What are some things that we can do? Remember, initial confusion in the face of change will clear, tumults will simmer down, and things will start to recalibrate. But individually, one must work to be agile and adaptive.  Most of us, no matter our job title, are paid to handle problems. In a way, problem-solving is the essence of one's work.

So test the limits of your personal effectiveness and see what you can contribute to your organizations institutional ability to change and improve, you may be surprised. It may come from within yourself, or in the way you supervise and mentor those who may report to you.

Finally, keep in mind that complaining does not equal contributing. Do flag a problem and try to fix it yourself or be willing to offer workable solutions. Consider inventing your future instead of trying to redesign your past. Workloads weigh less when you have a job you love.


There are some recurring phenomena that may manifest during times of marked change. Below are some of them and lessons to be learned:

FACT: Trust levels drop during periods of change. People may interpret unpopular events as solid evidence that the organization lacks commitment to staff.

PHENOMENON: Right and wrong perceptions run the show.

LESSON: You must provide generous proof to the contrary, leaving no doubt about your dedication to your people.

: Change weakens people's emotional attachment to an organization.

PHENOMENON: Some people quit and leave, others quit and stay.

LESSON: Re-recruit everyone who is staying. Commitment isn't going to show its face until you reconnect the people to the organization.

: Devotion to the job drops when working relationships get disturbed.

PHENOMENON: Personnel shakeups cause people to pull back psychologically.

LESSON: Take the time/make the time to build or re-build relationships-between supervisors and reporting staff and between the staff members on your team.

Dr. Chris E. Stout


Dr. Stout is a licensed clinical psychologist and serves as ATI/PRO's Director of Research and Development. He also is a Clinical Professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago, holds an academic appointment in the Northwestern University Feinberg Medical School, and was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Health Systems Management at Rush University. He was appointed by the Secretary of the US Department of Commerce to the Board of Examiners for the Baldrige National Quality Award. He holds the distinction of being one of only 100 world-wide leaders appointed to the World Economic Forum's Global Leaders of Tomorrow. Dr. Stout has published or presented over 300 papers and 30 books. He has lectured across the nation and internationally in 19 countries, and visited 6 continents and over 75 countries. He is frequently interviewed (e.g., CNBC, CNN, NBC, PBS, NPR, Oprah, Eye On Harvard, Time, Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Associated Press, Child Magazine, Chicago Sun-Times...).