How emergent change really feels!

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The challenge

Over the last few months I have been living through a very significant change in my circumstances, triggered by Covid and Brexit. I am accidentally experiencing high levels of emergent change. There are many facets to this change and as is common with emergent change, there is no single source of requirements, so I have to keep cross checking with different advisers who each reveal a new changes as they in turn make sense of the facts.

It is a painstaking process and creates a permanent feeling of uncertainty and a continuous block of stress that is always with me, adding pressure on busy days and stealing away a little of my happiness when things go well.

New life cycle of change model

To try to reduce this uncertainty I have tried to identify the pattern of events, to give me insight into what might happen next, and it is this pattern I wanted to share with you, as I believe it is common to agile, evolving change, and might help us manage future change initiatives better.

If this diagram looks a little like the famous “snakes and ladders” game, I agree with you! There is an element of climbing the ladder but then sliding back down the snake again, partly I think because denial that a major change is taking place is comforting. Proactively dealing with everything is scary, and where there is not a clear path to follow, it is difficult to know what to do first.

Steps in the life cycle of change

1. Realisation that change is taking place

Change has crept up on me because it has been incremental. Minor tasks keep emerging, triggered by rule changes, the need to complete paperwork I didn’t know existed and entering data on new systems. For months I have dealt with each of these requests tactically and transactionally, fitting them in when I can find the time. Now, however, I am beginning to realise that taken together, they add up to a significant strategic shift, that has big consequences for how I organise my work.

There is a skill here in being able to call out when a change is taking place, being able to put small changes into a wider context and realise that they are not tactical changes, but add up to a bigger shift in how things are done. The sooner we can make this call, the sooner we can give these changes the focus and the priority that they need, leading to appropriate allocation of resources to get them done, rather than leaving them to be completed on a voluntary basis.

2. Making sense of the change

This leads me onto the next step, which is to carry out an impact assessment, to understand the scale of the differences, and the associated positives and negatives. This is the key to feeling more in control, and being able to take a more active role, rather than passively experiencing each change, reacting to it when it appears but not knowing when my time and attention are going to be required.

3. Making peace with the change

Emergent change looks like a series of small, almost insignificant changes but this type of change can create a seismic shift in how things are done. This shift often only becomes clear once we can look back on all the work we have undertaken and seen the difference between where we were and where we are now. Ideally, this is what step 2 will achieve, providing us with the information to begin the process of accepting and learning to live with the new circumstances.


In a world of constant, continuous change, I need to develop a new skill of “personal horizon scanning” to check if the things I am involved in day to day need to be viewed as a more cohesive picture and given more focus than they are currently getting.