Change Management – Handling Risk and Fear | Stepshift

Change Management – Handling Risk and Fear

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

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In times of great change, risk aversion and fear run amok. It’s tempting for leaders to push forward with their change management process without acknowledging their own fears. Also, importantly, they do not spend time to accurately identify and deal with the fears of others.

Leaders tend to want to display great strength and confidence and acknowledging personal and business vulnerabilities does not come easy. Yet undertaking a change management process without dealing with such fears and risks is likely to fail. Team members who are afraid or concerned about the change management process are unlikely to commit totally to the process. Furthermore a change management process would be proceeding on the basis of incomplete information if team members’ concerns and fears were not tabled and dealt with. Leaders who are good at acknowledging and countering these emotions can help their people summon the courage to act and thus unleash tremendous potential.

I recently read about a CEO who follows an explicit process every time they face a new, risky project (for example, a major acquisition). The process helps everyone–himself included–prepare by devising risk mitigation strategies using these steps:

  • He asks the team to imagine every possible bad scenario – their “worst nightmares”
  • He then asks everyone to describe those scenarios in detail and then to “examine the nightmare” together
  • Finally the team devise a detailed plan for countering each nightmare – in effect, rehearsing the best collective response to each potential issue

Once fears have been identified and been dealt with, the team has a plan in place for every scenario and a set of next steps to implement.

A word of caution with this process however. It is important to postpone its application until a lot of the other more promising scenarios or possibilities are developed. To bring out what Edward de Bono would describe as black hat thinking too early in the process is likely to limit creative thinking and consideration of the “upside” of the change management process.

If you are involved in a change management process and need to identify and deal with unexpressed concerns or fears get in touch to see how we could help.



Lynn Humphrey is a Partner at Stepshift, helping New Zealand business leaders to get the best from themselves and the people they lead through executive coaching, leadership development and business consulting.

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