Emotional resilience key to effective Change Management

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Change Management continues to develop as a profession. As part of this I attended a fantastic presentation from Dr. Aarti Anhal on emotional resilience at the Change Management Institute UK event last week.

Lessons learned

Lots of different definitions of emotional resilience, but what they all have in common is that resilience is not just about coping with adversity, it is being able to thrive and to perform well in difficult circumstances.

Resilience is a choice, because it takes hard work. It requires us to actively manage our emotions. Not just react to situations, but to think through what the most effective response would be and apply that to the situation. Holding back, not just reacting but managing our reaction.

A lot of what makes us emotionally resilient is personality, so we cannot affect that, but other factors that contribute to resilience are a willingness to challenge our assumptions, look at situations from different perspectives and a willingness to put the effort into finding and applying coping mechanisms that work for us.

There was more evidence for the importance of positive thinking, especially during change. This is because negative emotions create a kind of tunnel vision, where people become very limited in the range of perspectives and sources of information, they are willing to consider. Positive emotions make us more aware of the people around us, and how others might interpret what we are doing.

I can certainly attest to the problems that an inward focus produces when leading change, and it is one of the things that I strive to overcome. It is very difficult to create a sense of urgency for change if those affected are only considering what is currently happening in their own organisation. They look around them and feel that what they are doing now, the current status quo is just fine, and that change isn’t really a priority.

However, if they truly consider what is happening outside of their organisation, looking at the latest developments from competitors, consider what else is available from a technology and/or process perspective (the art of the possible) or consider the innovations of other organisations outside of their industry (possible disruptors) they become more interested in the the potential benefits of change.

An interesting discussion took place in the questions after the talk about the importance of autonomy and environmental mastery in creating resilience. Autonomy is self-choice and environmental mastery is the ability to have some affect/control over my environment. It is when people feel they have the resources and the ability to cope.

Stress comes from my perception that I don’t have the resources to cope, so it is important that we talk early and regularly about the ‘support package’ that is available to help people learn about and practice new ways of working.

Interesting research quoted from Professor Cary Cooper showing that the more support people are offered during periods of change, the quicker they recover, along with a lower level of negative consequences.

Next steps

We can create working environments that encourage resilience and help ourselves and our colleagues to develop these habits. In fact, respondents to the MIND Workplace Wellbeing Index reported that only 17% of respondents had a change management policy. Change management policies should take account of the impact of change on the mental well-being of employees. We cannot address mental well-being and emotional resilience if we do not plan for it, and we do not plan for it if we do not have a change management policy.

The type of things we can start to include as regular items in our change plans include:

  • We can communicate the resources available to help staff through changes to their ways of working.
  • We can remind staff about the skills and abilities they have that are transferable to the new ways of working. This encourages people to remember they have the capability to cope with the changes.


Emotional resilience is becoming a ‘thing’. During the talk we did a show of hands about how many of us are talking about it now, and how many of us were talking about it last year, demonstrating the growth in the use of this phrase. I predict this will continue to be part of our work in 2019, but for more predictions for change management in 2019, join me on this webinar (or register now to get the recording)