3 Keys to Overcoming Fear of Organizational Change

When a company begins to take steps to redesign their organization, what should be a time of innovation and excitement often becomes a time of fear and trepidation for leaders and organization team members alike. Feelings of fear during times of change are not uncommon or unexpected. Because organizations are composed of humans, individuals’ fear may get in the way of doing what’s best for the whole organization.  

Leaders must transcend these fears themselves and help their organization team members embrace the necessary changes. Only then can the best changes happen and the organization achieve a successful outcome.

3 Types of Fear

The fear that emerges during times of organization change tends to take one of three forms. To overcome these common fears, it is important to understand them:

1) Fear of Loss

People fear an organization redesign because they worry that they will lose something, be it influence, income, or even power. Individuals, for instance, may not prefer to adopt a new, better scheduling system for fear of losing part of their work responsibilities (and maybe their position) to others in the organization or to automation. Similarly, leaders may feel distressed when a change threatens the business’ results.

2) Fear of Change

Changing itself can be a reason for fear. Humans like things to be the same; it is comfortable and predictable.

For example, many once felt great anxiety about switching to a cell phone. They said things like, “I know how to use my home phone, and it’s worked perfectly fine for years. I don’t need to take the time to buy and then learn to use a cell phone. Why even consider this radical idea?”

Likewise, individuals in an organization often balk at the prospect of change, afraid of how much they will have to learn to do differently and how it will affect their current, comfortable workflows and routines.

3) Fear of Inadequacy

Naturally, humans fear being inadequate. When new challenges arise, we wonder: “Am I good enough? Can I really do this?”

In anything from running a race to going to college to redesigning an organization, people worry they don’t have the knowledge, skills, or ability to achieve. This fear impedes progress, and it can  cause people to give up before they even start. 

When any of these types of fear creep into the minds of organization leaders and employees, the prospects of effective transformation are jeopardized. Some of the consequences of fear are:

  • Lack of risk taking by organization leaders in architecting new, strategically-aligned design choices
  • Lack of perseverance for staying the organization transformation course
  • Lack of willingness to adopt new routines and ways of working

Without a willingness to take risks, stay the course, or adopt new behaviors and routines, the prospects of successful change are essentially dashed. That is why leaders need to consider ways of overcoming fear during times of organization transformation.

3 Ways to Overcome These Fears

During organizational change, you or members of your organization may be feeling one—or all—of these types of fears. Here are three ways to potentially mitigate the negative impacts of fearful emotions that that could be holding you and your organization back from designing the best answer or accomplishing great things:

1) Communicate Openly and Realistically

Leaders must openly communicate the realities of the market and business environment. Without this perspective, individuals in an organization will see their personal fears of loss, change, and inadequacy as bigger problems than the ones their organization is facing if they don’t help the organization pivot and react to market realities. All organization members must be convinced that doing nothing will lead to more problems than taking the risks of making bold changes now.

2) Operate from the Strategic Balcony

Part of why leaders are so important is their unique stance from the strategic balcony; from above, they can see the many moving parts of their organizations and the market. As you design and implement change, take maximum advantage of this unique perspective. From the strategic balcony, find potential connections and opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed and unutilized. This will give you confidence to move forward and let you guide organization members through uncertain times.

You can do this by helping others in your organization catch a glimpse from the strategic balcony, too. Everyone in the organization will benefit by understanding how their role fits into the overall organization redesign and how, when everyone commits to and makes the needed changes, the organization can achieve results.

3) Talk One-on-One with Individuals

Individuals need to know what is personally expected of them and that they are appreciated. This usually means putting in a little more effort than a single mass email or group presentation.

When a leader takes the time to explain to someone what their contribution must be, and that they are essential to achieving large-scale change, they will feel more confident and comfortable moving forward. Encourage them, and, if appropriate, reassure them that their fears about losing something, having to adopt new routines, or not being up to the challenge can be overcome, and that they need not fear serious personal impact.

Feelings of fear during times of change are to be expected, but by identifying these feelings and planning to address them, the business can avoid making incremental steps and instead take the big steps needed to stay apace the market. Additionally, organization members will be able to navigate the uncertainty of the change and reengage in positive and productive ways.