Navigating the Undercurrents of Change

“People don’t change when they are told to.

They change when they’re inspired and motivated to.”

~Max Yoder, Do Better Work

We can draw up plans. Lay out timelines. Designate the technical and financial resources needed to succeed. And still have change fail. That’s because change is more than the technical side, there is a people side to change that we often don’t dive into. 

If you are leading change then there are going to be elements of emotion, relationships, and inspiration that need attention. If ignored, these can thwart change efforts or slow them down. In addition to the technical side of change, leaders can navigate the undercurrents of change by creating space to engage in conversations that help their teams grow and even thrive during change. Here are some ideas:

  1. Celebrate the past. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the way things were. People may pine after what was. But, if we acknowledge the past and celebrate it we clarify what was and what will be.  People can more readily let go and embrace what is new.  
  2. Over-communicate. Lack of clarity is a reason people hesitate in trying new things or new ways of doing things. The more you clarify the process steps in ways your people need to hear, the more likely they are to take the needed steps forward. Then, repeat yourself and don’t assume everyone understands. Invite questions even when you feel like you just answered the questions you are being asked.
  3. Ask more questions. In our excitement to lead others into the new thing we don’t realize that perspectives may differ. Asking powerful questions can offer insight into ways you can communicate during change and uncover what might be hindering people in the process of embracing change.
  4. Tune in to the pulse of your people. Keep your ear to the ground to hear the sidebar conversations and the emotions that might be behind the words. Keep your eyes peeled to look for the body language that might give you clues to what is really going on in the hearts and minds of your people. When you notice something, pause, ask and listen to surface any concerns that might hold your team back from success. 
  5. Intentionally invest more in relationships. When under the stress that change brings, relationships can easily break down. Whatever you have already been doing to grow relationships, you will need to do even more for change to truly succeed in both the short and long term. Giving extra attention to relationship building during change is an investment that empowers people to work together better

The key to increasing the success of change is directly linked to communication. Not only the message, but the emotions behind words. Change is an opportunity to actually grow the team further using a few of these “non-technical” approaches. 

Intentionally addressing the undercurrents of change increases the likelihood of ownership by the team and motivates those who will be part of the change. 

Next Steps

Consider this framework when you are navigating undercurrents of change:

  1. Step back, reflect on what is holding up the change you want.
  2. Pick one of the five strategies above to tackle the hold up.
  3. Give it a try. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t and build on that.

Change isn’t a linear process, so give yourself and your people grace as you journey through the transition. Comment below with your own ideas on navigating through change and bringing your team along!


Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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