Managing Change: Is It Stupid and Dangerous?

Texas A&M University finds that nature can hold the secret to business success. Research demonstrates that workers' idea
Texas A&M University finds that nature can hold the secret to business success. Research demonstrates that workers' idea generation, creative performance and problem solving skills improve substantially in workplace environments that include flowers and plants. — Photo Courtesy

Change, disruption, and uncertainty are hot topics for today's corporate and association meetings.

This is the second time around for change as the topic de jour. Back in the '90s, the message was "Change is coming. Get ready." Our cheese was moving and our icebergs were melting. A shift was happening, and we were being warned.

Virtually every professional speaker and trainer had a program on change in the '90s, and that trend is happening again today as speakers chase a topic that they hope will sell. There is a clear distinction, however, between those who created a new talk about change and those with a distinct understanding about how to effectively make change work in organizations.

In today's world, the message about change is even more important: The ability to quickly and continually change, adapt, and grow is the difference between excellence and irrelevance. Past success proves that you were right -- once.

I recently heard a well-known keynote speaker say, "Managing change is stupid and dangerous. The only way to manage change is to create it."

That statement was influenced by a quote from Peter Drucker, and on the surface, it is a great message. The goal is for every person at every level to be looking for and embracing ways to be faster, better, cheaper, and friendlier. Companies are constantly evolving and they need employees to be nimble and proactive to ensure success in the face of volatility and uncertainty. That is how you win in a world of constant change.

Beyond the surface, however, this comment is ... well ... both stupid and dangerous.

Even Drucker would admit that there are times when we all must manage and lead ourselves and others through change. The individual who finds their life altered because of an injury or layoff didn't create that change; but they won't survive if they don't learn to manage and lead through it. The same applies to the department or division head who must lead through a lay-off; the front-line leader who must sell a change to a work process; and a senior executive who wakes up tomorrow to learn that their company is merging with a competitor.

Not everyone with a speech on change can help you actually implement the change you need to thrive.

Change in today's world can come wrapped as an opportunity to be captured -- or a crisis to be managed. There is a special place for an inspiring and entertaining message about creating the change you want to happen. That message can shake an audience out of their complacency and inspire improvement. But there is a significant difference between thinking about the change that needs to happen, and thriving in the midst of gut-wrenching change that is out of the control for those experiencing it.

Here are five things you can do when you find yourself or your organization in a situation that requires you to manage change:

  1. Acknowledge reality. Nothing ever changes until we tell ourselves the truth. You will rebound and respond more quickly when you are honest about what is and isn't changing.
  2. Slow down and think to separate emotion from response. Our thoughts are translated to feeling so quickly that we aren't aware of them. Slowing down to reframe your thinking makes it possible to consciously choose your response rather than replaying how your emotions have conditioned you to respond.
  3. Take stock and recognize the challenges. There is a tendency to assume all is lost or that the challenges are insurmountable. Make an honest assessment of the situation and the resources to help you through the change.
  4. Explore a different future. We often define ourselves by our past rather than our potential Take the opportunity to ask new questions that lead to unique opportunities.
  5. Take baby steps and celebrate them. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, the end of the year, and retirement. Why wait? Look for every opportunity to celebrate new thinking and behavior that moves you forward.

Creating change is the absolute best way to take control of your business and life. Unfortunately, our business and life don't always wait for us to take proactive action. There are times when managing change is neither stupid nor dangerous. It is essential.

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author and a leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit or call 972-980-9857.