A Guide to Managing Uncertainty through Organizational Change

Triangle detailing communication clarity and commitment the pillars of change implementation

Are you struggling to get people on board when it comes to embracing change in your organization? If you’re nodding your head you’re not alone. Two brutal facts: One, Organizational Change is the new normal for leadership success and all leaders must accept this fact.

And two –  studies continue to suggest that close to 70% of organizational change efforts lead fall under the category of unsuccessful outcome. So how can you work with people’s brains to make change easier? And how do you get your team within the 30%?

The main challenge with organizational change has to do with change resistance and with what oftentimes can be categorized as leaders’ lack of skills in dealing with change resistance. The truth of the matter is that change resistance is something that we all struggle with, leaders included, to one extent or another. We encounter change resistance in many facets of our lives, sometimes not even realizing that this is what we are dealing with.

Usually an organizational change refers to the shift in behavior and actions that a company must undergo to adapt with shifting priorities. A significant transformation in business processes or personnel can constitute an organizational change. Beyond that, having new management, acquiring an outside business, entering new markets all can represent an organizational change.

Organizational Change Can Be Frustrating:

Take as an example a leader who feels extremely frustrated with a team member who struggles with adopting a new CRM system into their daily routine, while that leaders, outside of work, struggles with adopting new habits when it comes to their health, financial or parenting habits. So here is the good news: there are skills and tools for managing resistance to change. We just need to know what they are and add them to the way we handle not just team members as leaders, but also everyone and anyone in all aspects of our lives, including ourselves.

Change management is an extreme form of life skills- teamwork, habit formation, time management, interpersonal skills, efficiency, overcoming of adversity and more. In dealing with change all of these become a bit more extreme, hence the difficulties that we are all facing. 

Change management needs to be a skill that we all become trained in and ultimately really good at. The reason for that is that successful change management is the doorway to success and growth both on a personal level and on a team and organizational level.

The three sides of the triangle for organizational change are communication, commitment, and clarity.

To make things easier, I have compiled a simple triangle of the three best tips for keeping your team engaged, productive and motivated through organizational growth and change. I call it The Triangle of Change:



Be mentally and emotionally prepared for the fact that some people have a harder time adjusting to change compared to others. Accept that your challenge as a leader is to help them not only adapt and thrive but also thrive and be productive, without judging them for the challenge that the organizational changes pose for them. They will follow your lead much better if you are accepting and attentive to the challenges that the changes pose for them.
So how do we do that? Research shows consistently that commitment to change doesn’t work when it is tied to a broad goal. Commitment to change works much better for well defined, concrete, time capped habit formation. Define to your team what you want, when you want it by and how. Keep enforcing new, well defined habits rather than focusing on the larger scale organizational changes. Those are oftentimes way too broad and intimidating to most team members.



Our brain hates not knowing what to expect and for that reason, change triggers anxiety, and anxiety stands in the way of performance. It turns out your brain craves certainty in a similar way, and using similar circuits, for how we crave food and other primary rewards. Information is rewarding. A sense of uncertainty resulting from lack of clarity generates a strong threat or alert response in your limbic system. Think of the brain as a prediction machine. Massive neuronal resources are devoted to predicting what will happen each moment.
All of this explains many otherwise strange phenomenon. Knowing that we automatically avoid uncertainty explains why any kind of change can be hard – it’s inherently uncertain. It explains why we prefer things we know over things that might be more fun, or better for us, but are new and therefore uncertain. It explains why we prefer the certainty of focusing on problems and finding answers in data from the past, rather than risking the uncertainty of new, creative solutions.
To combat the difficulty and anxiety that are typically associated with change, be as clear as you can. What do you expect? What exactly do you want? When do you want it by? Spell everything out and check yourself over and over again if you were clear. The clearer you are, the better your team performs. Especially in a change saturated environment.



Set the tone for honest and transparent communication. Once your team members trust that they can communicate openly with you, you will be able to have much more impact and gather valuable information about where everyone is as far as the process. Make communication a priority. If you are struggling with that, get training, read, work on your communication skills.
Every step you make to improve your communication styles equals ten steps to progress for your team. Should you meet antagonism, (and you probably will), keep in mind that you cannot ignore antagonism to change. It doesn’t go away on its own and it tends to gain increasing influence over time if neglected. Connect with the antagonists. Communicate with them. Work to understand the reason for the antagonism and work to set clear guidelines and boundaries on the other hand. Antagonists can be disarmed.
You just need to know how to work with them and make sure not to bury your head in the sand. In dealing with communication, always keep empowerment of others around you at the top of your daily focused efforts. One of the biggest keys to human motivation is that we all like to feel good about ourselves and we all like to feel that we matter. Never neglect to point out the good things that you see.
The people that you empower are your people once you start empowering them. Empowering is addictive. Everyone wants more of it. Don’t be cheap on empowering your team and don’t get lost in the big picture and neglect to do it. Empowerment is the secret key to the door of success. Those that know how to use it, open any doors.


Organizational change initiatives trigger anxiety across the corporate hierarchy in even the best of times. But in an era where a storied firm like Lehman Brothers can go bankrupt almost overnight and the Dow’s fluctuations can make one dizzy, they can elicit fear, even panic.

In such times, calls to change can also provoke especially intense resistance. When uncertainty is such a prominent — and threatening — feature on the external landscape, people crave constancy and routine inside their organizations.

Of course, it’s when economic conditions are most unstable that companies most often need to change, and change quickly if they are to survive. Managers, then, face a daunting task. To help their organizations weather a downturn, they need to ensure that employees fully buy into change initiatives and make the necessary alterations in their day-to-day behavior–at precisely the same time their employees are likely to be most anxious about, and resistant to, change.

Large-scale change initiatives, such as mergers or restructurings, aren’t alone in eliciting strong responses. In an anxious era, even more, modest initiatives, such as the adoption of a new IT system or a sharper focus on product innovation, can push distressing emotions to paralyze levels.


Uncertainty fuels anxiety and anxiety sabotages productivity. 

Your job as a leader is to help your team members embrace change by reducing anxiety and increasing motivation and engagement. There are five main types of unclarity through organizational change:

1. The unclarity of change narrative.
2. The unclarity of expectations
3. The unclarity of roles and rules
4. The unclarity of procedures
5. The unclarity of status and sense of competency

Everyone knows that unclarity and uncertainty are stressful. But what is not so obvious is that uncertainty is more stressful than predictable negative consequences, according to recent research from the UCL Institute of Neurology.

There are prehistoric reasons for this. We know as humans since ancient times that the thing that might be lurking behind that rock or bush or up in that tree could harm, kill, or quite possibly eat us. Brains are adaptively wired to react to uncertainty this way, from way, way back in our ancestral history. Just because we’ve launched ourselves (and our brains) into this techno-socially advanced era doesn’t mean our brains are reacting less or even differently; they are just reacting to different threatening possibilities—some physical and many more are just perceived by us as potentially dangerous.

What that tells us is that if you are incorporating organizational change as a leader, your main combat is not with change resistance. Your main combat is with uncertainty. This means that the clearer your team is about why the change is needed, what you expect of them and that you support them through the process, the more powerful and effective team you will have.

Steps for Implementing Organizational Change:

Here are three actionable steps that you can start implementing immediately in order to increase clarity and reduce anxiety and resistance for your team members through organizational change. 

Step 1: Tell them exactly what you want

This sounds easy to do but my experience has been that many times leaders are not clear themselves about what they want because the leaders above them aren’t that clear either. Pledge to clarify everything to yourself first. If you are not clear about the what, why and the how of change, stop, clarify it to yourself first, and only then continue to communicate expectations and procedures to your team members.


Step 2: Model the change that you are asking for

As a leader, all eyes are on you. You cannot ask your team to behave in ways that you are not modeling yourself. It simply will not work. Get clear about the culture, values, and expectations that you have from them, and hold yourself to the highest standards. Team members will notice and follow. This will not only have a reassuring effect, but will also serve as an additional means of clarifying what exactly is expected and how.


Step 3: Measure success on an ongoing basis

One of the impacts of organizational change is feeling busier and oftentimes overwhelmed. It is easy to assume a lot of information as far as how team members are doing, and that is not the path you want to choose. Determine 3-5 parameters for success and measure them on an ongoing basis, weekly or monthly. This clarity on what exactly is going on and what team members are struggling with; will give you valuable data in terms of where things are at and will allow you to act swiftly to adjust and assist effectively through change implementation.

Dr. Michelle Rozen
Dr. Michelle Rozen

Dr. Michelle Rozen, Ph.D., is a highly respected authority on the psychology of change. She is one of the most booked motivational speakers nationwide as well as internationally, and a frequent guest on media outlets such as NBC, ABC, FOX News, and CNN on topics related to dealing with change in our world and in every aspect of our lives, so that we can do better and feel better.

Her most recent book, 2 Second Decisions helps people power through with their most challenging decisions through turbulent times.

Dr. Michelle Rozen consistently speaks for Fortune 500 companies and her clients include some of the most recognizable companies in the world including Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, and The U.S. Navy. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Psychology and resides in the greater NYC area.

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