Leading Sustainable Change in a Fast-Paced World

Communication professionals are used to change. But the speed of change is continuing to increase. The human brain now takes in 34 gigabytes of data daily—enough to overload a laptop in one week.

No wonder we all feel like we are operating at hyper-drive warp speed!

The increasing pace of technological evolution means that humans need to become more responsive, more adaptable and more agile than ever before.

While we don’t want to become like robots, we do want to increase our ability to thrive in fast-changing times and to build ways to successfully navigate change (including technological change) as part of our ongoing reality.

In the future, humans and robots (or, “cobots”) will increasingly work side by side. We need to focus on people first when creating any change and then focus on the technology to enable the people outcomes we want to create.

In other words, the primary question when leading change needs to be, “How will this change positively impact our clients and employees?” and the secondary question needs to be, “What tools do we have and what resources do we have to make positive sustainable change for our clients and employees?”

The phases of change

In my book The Art of Change Leadership: Driving transformation in a fast-paced world, I provide a number of models to help leaders and professionals to strategically lead change. One of those models is the change cycle below:


© Cheryl Cran 2017

This change cycle model shows the phases that every person goes through when faced with change:

  • Phase 1: The change happens and the immediate reaction is fear and immobilization (deer in headlights).
  • Phase 2: The reaction to change moves to skepticism, focus on the past or even glamorizing the past.
  • Phase 3: Change continues and the response is defensiveness, anxiety and pushback against the change.
  • Phase 4: In this phase, the reality that change is happening and resistance is futile sets in; there is a shift into discovering creative solutions and more energy toward future rather than past.
  • Phase 5: Confidence increases as the individual integrates the reality of change along with creative solutions.
  • Phase 6: The primary focus is the future, and optimism about the change and where it is leading increases. The focus is also on results and making change highly successful.

As humans, we all go through these phases. My goal is to help as many leaders and professionals I can to spend the majority of their time in phases four to six—which means spending less and less time in fear, pushback or resistance and more time in creative solutions, inspiration and driving toward a new and exciting future that benefits more and more people.

Putting the phases of change to use

To lead change, leaders and teams need to understand the psychology of change and become aware of where they are in the change cycle.

The change cycle is meant to be used as a change management/leadership model and provides a structure for understanding the nature of change.

The power of the model is as an assessment tool for both individuals and organizations to identify what stage of change we are in and then use the results of the assessment to create strategies to remain flexible in the face of rapid pace of change in business and technology.

For example, a client of mine in the manufacturing industry made a strategic decision a year ago to purchase and implement a new electronic records platform (ERP) system for the company.

There was a lot of resistance from a few members on the team, as they did not see the rationale for making the change. These few team members felt that more research needed to be done and wanted proof that the new system would make a marked improvement on current processes.

Those team members were actually being pragmatic and asking great questions—they were not resisting the change. They were in the “discover” part of the change cycle.

Ultimately, the entire team agreed to move ahead with the ERP system and now, a year later, they are five days from their “go live” date. In the past few months, the entire team has gone back and forth between fear of the change to skepticism about the change to “this is going to be great for the company.”

The change cycle model gives them a tool that provides context while they are going through the massive change. They are able to both recognize where an individual is in the change cycle and rally together as a team to support each person through the cycle.

Making change sustainable

The key to sustainable change is to discern the value of the past strategies and integrate that value into new and modern strategies toward the future.

This form of change leadership is called bi-modal, which means honoring the foundational and legacy strategies that still work and are the basis of success so far while also being willing to throw out what no longer serves or is no longer relevant and replace it with new strategies, new technologies and new processes.

How can a communication professional lead change with the change cycle and bi-modal approach?

  1. Use the change cycle model to self-assess where you are in any given change scenario.
  2. Use the change cycle model as a tool for awareness with your team.
  3. Use the change cycle model as an accountability tool when people get “stuck” with a change or are resisting change.
  4. Use a bi-modal communication approach, which is honoring the past and what has worked while leading and inspiring others to include new and future strategies to create superior outcomes.

As artificial intelligence and automation continue to rapidly infiltrate our world, we as humans need to build our capacity to navigate change. We have the opportunity to see and handle change with tremendous amounts of optimism, inspiration and energy, and there is nothing more human than that.

Written by Cheryl Cran for CW Magazine.