Change & Transformation in an Uncertain World

As an associate of Konexo, I recently presented on this topic as part of a webinar to ACC members all across Europe. Today more than ever, we are all operating in an uncertain world. How you motivate and sustain people through change and transformation during this time could be the difference between having engaged employees that will eventually make for a successful transformation or not.

For anyone faced with the challenge of motivating others through change and transformation, you have be aware of how you respond to change yourself. I'm going to ask you two questions, and I would like you to respond with your first thoughts as you continue to read this article...

1. When you first went into lockdown, how did you feel?

2. How how do you feel about lockdown today?

Change and transition are not the same thing. Change is an external event, whereas transition is how you align your internal reactions and adjust to that change. Those internal reactions can be a whole series of emotions; denial, anxiety, anger, fear, excitement and so on.

Just when many people were successfully aligning and adjusting, the goal posts moved again. Only by recognising how you personally respond to an external event can you begin to consider what others might be going through. This careful consideration can then help you to motivate and sustain other people through a planned change, and at this moment in time you have the added complexity of unplanned change.

As we all know, change creates uncertainty. Uncertainty can then create:


• Emotional and intellectual overload,

• Negative impact on health and physical well-being,

• Ineffectiveness in both our work and personal lives,

• Personal paralysis.


• Energising effects that keep us alert,

• Increase in creativity,

• Boosts to self-confidence and self-reliance,

From working with clients over the past eight months, I know that people have experienced both through the COVID-19 pandemic. At the core of uncertainty is loss of the familiar, so often during change and transformation an individual is really questioning:

• WIIFM – what’s in it for me? (gain)

• WROM – what’s required of me? (pain)


A useful model, which I have shared in the past to describe the losses individuals may be experiencing through change and transition, is David Rock’s SCARF Model. Rock is an American Neurologist and Psychologist, and the SCARF model explains the social concerns that drive behaviour. One of the most important things that leads to successful transformation is the behaviour people adopt.

As leaders and people managers, this model is a fantastic tool for helping you to think about how you can motivate and sustain people through change and transformation. It can also be used in 1-2-1’s and performance-related conversations. It really is a tool for all weathers!

In Rock’s model, he describes the five social concerns:


The degree to which an individual perceives that their status, relative importance to others, and social standing indicates who they are as a person. Status is linked to an individual’s values. If people are displaced as a result of a transformation, status may potentially be more negatively perceived (if they are impacted and others aren’t, for example). 


The degree to which an individual requires a level of certainty/stability/familiarity etc. in a situation, role or organisation. Also, how well they are able to "predict the future". For example, people who are currently furloughed; these individuals may be unsure how their role may be affected in the future.


The degree to which an individual believes they have control over events or the responsibility for something.


The degree to which a person feels they belong to a particular group, whatever that group may be; an individual’s perception of inclusion. Their sense of “safety” with others. People in their team will have been part of the team for different periods of time, however there has always been a team and a sense of routine etc. If the transformation was part of a TUPE transfer, for example, the team as they knew it might be different and individuals may feel disconnected or on their own.


The degree to which, as an individual, you perceive you are treated fairly or that there is an “even playing field”. In some transformations the perception may be that there isn’t a fair exchange between people.

The human brain naturally works to minimise threat and maximise reward. Stimuli associated with positive emotions and rewards will trigger an approach response; stimuli associated with negative emotions and experiences will be seen as a threat and trigger an avoid response. These responses are not purely mental or behavioural. Data gathered through measures of brain activity (such as MRI or EEG) shows that threats of any of the social concerns listed above trigger psychological responses in the same way as a physical threat. The same neural responses that drive us towards food or away from predators are triggered by the perceptions of the way we are treated by other people

Realise that, if you are a leader or manager leading others through transformation, you want to keep your teams in the “reward” frame of mind as much as possible;

Aspire to understand, on an individual basis, what might be the social concerns of each member of your team; and,

Do recognise how you personally feel in regards to the changes you're leading.

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