The Danger of Accepting “Change is a Given”

Sixteen years ago, I had my first opportunity to hear Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman speak. An expert in the field of organizational change, Dr. Goman had just published a book called “This Isn’t the Company I Joined.” At the time, I was working for a global B2B software company. With re-orgs and acquisitions, I’d had 6 different managers in the course of a single year. It’s safe to say I could relate to the title of her book!

I remember Dr. Goman’s prescient words: “gone are the days when leaders lead through THE change. Change is not a one-time thing or event anymore. It is the norm.”

On a more recent note, earlier this year the Corporate Executive Board released new research[i] showing that the average employee has undergone 3 or more major changes in the last 2 years. Think about that: that’s a change every 7 months. Their definition of “major” included leadership changes, RIFs, new markets, mergers or acquisitions and so on.

We know we can’t stop the tide of change (nor would we want to, for the most part). Yet, our ability to be productive and effective – to accomplish things and make a difference – is tied wholly to how well we can manage within our current realities. What’s the impact on us when those realities are constantly shifting?

Consider these additional statements from CEB’s research:

  • A high-change environment can reduce overall employee performance by as much as 10%.
  • Organizational changes disrupt employee networks and work processes, making connections hard to build and even harder to maintain. Employees must navigate across different structures, cultures, and processes to perform.
  • Employees will need to build new skills and competencies and work in different ways. Executives will need to organize and manage differently to enable their teams to be productive.

In many ways, this topic of constant change is so clichéd. It’s such a given I’m expecting that soon we’ll add it to Ben Franklin’s quote about death and taxes! With all that’s been written and discussed about change, why add more now?

Because when we accept something as a given, we usually stop paying attention to it.

The CEB research struck me. It prompted me to evaluate the conversations I’ve been having with clients through this lens. Change – and its close cousin, ambiguity – are motivating hundreds of hours of conversation, angst, indecisiveness, tension and conflict inside our workplaces.

How are you paying attention?

There is no silver bullet or “one size fits all” answer here. Having said that, this topic is one where simply acknowledging it can go a long way in easing the anxiety that people have about it. Here are some questions I’d invite you to consider:

  1. How frequently are you and your team acknowledging and discussing change, either as a standalone topic or in context to actual changes in your work environment?
  2. How well do you understand your own reaction when things change? The reactions of your team?
  3. How are you developing your adaptability and resilience muscles? Those of your team?
  4. What might you look for to know how well (or not) people are adjusting to new realities?
  5. What is the first sentence of the conversation you are hesitant to have with your team about this topic?


[i] ”Breakthrough Performance in the New Work Environment: Identifying and Enabling the New High Performer.” 2013 Corporate Executive Board.


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