How to Cope With Change in the Workplace

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Managing Transitions" by William Bridges and Susan Bridges. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is your business undergoing change? Do you know how to cope with change in the workplace?

Organizations must change to survive, but companies sometimes fail during periods of transition. However, Managing Transitions by William and Susan Bridges says this doesn’t have to be the case.

Keep reading to learn how to cope with change in the workplace so your business thrives.

The Challenge of Managing Ongoing Change

Organizational leaders often grapple with learning how to cope with change in the workplace that requires them to manage multiple coinciding and related transitions. Moreover, while there has never been a time in our history when change hasn’t occurred, many people would argue that the rate of change has increased dramatically in recent years. 

For instance, consider the example of how much changed for the global workforce with the outbreak of Covid-19. Employees and managers, already managing typical changes in their field, were quickly forced to navigate the exceptional transition of remote or hybrid work and asked to implement new strategies and technologies that were previously unimaginable. 

Because transitions don’t occur in isolation, the three stages of the transition process often happen concurrently and converge on one another.

So how can you effectively manage concurrent and converging transitions when changes are ongoing? The authors offer two main strategies as tools for coping with ongoing change.

First, plan for change itself. Though we can’t predict the future, anticipating how an organization is growing and potential future challenges will allow you to prepare for future changes that might otherwise catch you off guard. Don’t be afraid to imagine the worst thing that could happen. How would you respond? What would you need to do? By considering what could go wrong, you’ll be better prepared to manage the organization when things fall apart.

(Shortform note: Knowing we cannot fully predict the future, Charles Duhigg advocates for the power of “probabilistic thinking.” Probabilistic thinking is a cognitive process that involves identifying all potential outcomes of your decision and the probability of each one occurring. Studies show that probabilistic thinking can increase the accuracy of your prediction by more than 50%, allowing you to better prepare for a broad range of future changes.)

Second, build a team that’s prepared for transitions. Give your team opportunities to collaborate, be creative, and step outside their defined roles. A team that has a clear vision of the entire organization and that has practiced working outside its comfort zone will be better prepared to weather any unexpected changes.

The Importance of Agility

While not a strategy mentioned by William and Susan Bridges, German entrepreneur Stefan Hansen argues that agility is what matters most when responding to continuous change. 

Like William and Susan Bridges, he acknowledges that shifting consumer demands and ongoing innovations in digital technology have increased the rate of change experienced by organizations. But while William and Susan Bridges advocate for intentional transition management, Hasen argues that the ability to respond to change quickly and adapt is the better indicator of long-term success.

The Bridges Transition Model emphasizes the importance of taking time with planning and decision-making when responding to change. The authors reiterate that a transition isn’t necessarily a quick process. Hansen, on the other hand, seems to suggest that speed is of the essence when responding to change.

Building Change-Resilient Teams

The best time to build your team’s resilience to change is before a crisis occurs, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes leaders take over in the middle of a crisis, or a crisis occurs to a newly-formed team. The good news is that there are opportunities to build a more resilient team at any point, whether that be before a sudden change, in the middle of it, or after it has occurred. 

  • Before change: Leaders can build a team’s resilience to change ahead of time by clarifying how team members’ roles interconnect, encouraging improvisation, creating psychological safety, and providing a general protocol for crisis response.
  • In the middle of change: When actively undergoing change, leaders can build a team’s resilience by providing information clearly and efficiently, setting concrete goals, and reframing challenges as opportunities.
  • After change: After surviving a major change, leaders can build a team’s resilience by providing opportunities to debrief and learn from the team’s successes and mistakes. Honest and open feedback is critical to becoming a more resilient team moving forward.
How to Cope With Change in the Workplace

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Here's what you'll find in our full Managing Transitions summary:

  • A guidebook for any leader that wants to survive organizational change
  • How to go through the three-step emotional process of transition
  • How to help others navigate the loss and grief associated with transition

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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