Stop Trying to Manage Change

Manage these three things instead Darcy Eikenberg

Do we ever really manage change? That is the question a client asked me earlier this year as her mind shifted from “this situation is only temporary” to “we’ll never go back to the way we were.”

For decades, we’ve talked about “change management” in our organizations as if there was one magic road map that would highlight speedbumps and illuminate exit signs. We’ve wished for a predictable path to the future only to find ourselves stuck in a cul-de-sac of present concerns.

I used to believe we could manage change by accepting where we are, setting a clear future vision and marching consistently toward it. But if there is anything a worldwide crisis revealed, it’s that the past is gone, the future is not fully formed and the place in-between is anyone’s guess.

So, what can we do to navigate our careers and lives right now? How can we stop worrying and start working to make the most of the changes happening around us? Instead of trying to manage change, let’s shift our focus to managing these three things.

1. Manage Your Relationships

When we’re standing on shaky ground, we often look to better tools to support us, seeking out the best app, program or software. But as Steve Jobs said: “Tools are just tools. They work, or they don’t work. It’s people you have faith in or not.”

No matter what’s changed in our workplaces over the years, relationships have always mattered. Even in a world of remote working, all challenges and opportunities circle back to people: colleagues, clients or customers. No matter where you’re working, you and your colleagues aren’t virtual; you’re real.

Managing relationships matters now more than ever. The time we invest in understanding and building trust with others will pay off no matter what kinds of changes are swirling around us.

If you’ve let a few relationships slip, you can get back on track. First, think about your three most important relationships in your career. How well are they working? Is there generous trust and easy communication? If so, that’s great. Let those people know right now how much you appreciate the relationship you have.

But if there’s one relationship you’d like to improve, it’s time for a relationship reset. A relationship reset hits the pause button on ongoing habits, assumptions and actions with someone else who’s important to you in your professional life. It’s a way to make what’s invisible more visible and to create a clear picture of the relationship you want with this person going forward.

Start your reset by identifying specifically what you’d like to be different between the two of you. Do you want to be heard more? Receive clearer assignments to reduce rework? Spend less time in conflict? Create that clear vision for yourself first.

Then, take a deep breath and start the conversation. You can say something like: “I’ve been noticing our work together isn’t as smooth as I’d like it to be. Could we plan a chat in the next couple of weeks so I can share some observations with you and get your insights? Our relationship is important to me, and I’d like to make sure I’m doing my best to help us stay on track. What’s a day that works for you?”

When change strikes again (and it will), you’ll be glad to have the relationships you need.

2. Manage Your Expectations

Here’s what I already know about you, the reader of this article. You’re a professional. You’re smart and good at what you do. You don’t like being stuck, unsure of your options.

Congratulations. You’re human. It’s in your DNA to want more control over your destiny. That makes it the perfect time to review the list of everything you can expect to control as the world changes:

  • Everything you think
  • Everything you say
  • Everything you do

Yes, that’s it. That’s all. But believe me, it’s a lot.

It means, though, you can’t control what others think, say or do. You can try to influence them, but their choices are ultimately theirs. If you’re setting expectations for yourself that are outside of your control, you’ll always feel stressed and unsure of yourself.

Instead, set your expectations based on what you can control. For example, while you can’t control earning a promotion, you can control actions like:

  • Initiating the conversation with your boss and leadership about your recent achievements and your desire to grow.
  • Learning what’s made others successful in the next role and building those skills.
  • Reminding yourself that the promotion is just one point in time and if you don’t get it, it’s just data, not a condemnation of your entire career. Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

The good news is that once you understand what you can control—and what you can’t—you’ll right-size your expectations and be ready for any change ahead.

3. Manage Your Mindset

Our big, beautiful brains are incredibly powerful. They can convince us that everything is broken and that the world is coming to an end. They can hold us back, telling us to avoid anything new and stay away from risk.

Or, we can train our brains to grow our knowledge, build resilience or accelerate empathy. Whenever we witness change in our company or community, it’s the perfect time to manage our mindset and change our habits, processes or reactions as needed. The old rules are changing, providing an invitation for our attitudes and beliefs to change along with them.

As you manage through our new world of work, what mindset might be helpful to adopt right now? What perspective can you choose that moves you forward rather than holding you back?

Don’t get stuck trying to manage change and waiting for a hero to fix what is broken. When you manage your relationships, expectations and mindset instead, you’ll find that the hero you’ve been waiting for is you.

Darcy Eikenberg, PCC, is an executive coach and speaker on leadership and career success. Her upcoming book offers practical strategies to tackle career crises, whether they attack from the outside or we create them ourselves. Get a sneak peek and other free tools at

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

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