How to Navigate a Big Change



  • Be very intentional about what you expect (4:00)

  • Don’t diminish anyone’s success to avoid others feeling uncomfortable (6:20)

  • Communicate the why – over and over (7:40)

  • It is not about how change feels (9:15)


I was fortunate enough to be asked to consult with an organization going through a restructure. This nonprofit, like many, operates in a very entrepreneurial way. They have significant revenue streams that actually force them to operate almost like a for-profit corporation, at times.

After several years of operating as a start-up, they now know what they do best, who they serve, and have intense clarity about their mission. So, the next phase is here, and they’re going through a shift. It is time to get their operations and culture aligned, so they do their most efficient work effectively, and thus make a deeper mission-based impact.

They called me because I’ve worked with a wide range of organizations, companies, and government agencies going through similar growth and change. They wanted the wisdom of my experience and global view. My role was to listen to their plan, ask the toughest questions, and share my expertise and lessons learned from working with other organizations in the same place – and, of course, to provide coaching.

Now, I have prior information about this organization. I know the work styles of their key staff, I know the struggles and challenges they face, and I know their history and their story. I’ve also done coaching with their CEO and can speak frankly with her about her blind spots, tendencies, and the patterns of behavior that have both tripped her up and moved her forward.

The day after our call, I happened to listen to a podcast in which Dr. Dan Diamond explores the question of “How do people become unstoppable?”

Much of the podcast and the information Dr. Diamond shares is based on working in disaster zones such as Katrina and Haiti, and his area of expertise is about what makes people resilient and committed when working for the greater good. In other words, mission work. And what he shares is as applicable to corporations and government agencies as it is to my nonprofit client.

So, here are four of his points that align so perfectly with the advice, coaching, and consultation I provided to help this CEO move forward as she navigates a really big change.


The organization has an employee who is going to receive a significant promotion. Yet, the client was concerned about how their promotion might make other employees feel. She wondered if the promotion itself would be enough to hint to the others what she is expecting from them.

Uhm … no. Leading by hinting – versus speaking your truth with empathy, compassion, self-awareness, and a focus on the best interests of the whole (in this case, the mission) – is never effective.

I recommended specifically drawing attention to the work style, behaviors, and attitudes that this employee demonstrates, describing the characteristics that set them apart as a candidate for this promotion. Let the other employees know, clearly, what is required for success.

Diamond shared research that says as few as 10% of a group or population can shift an entire culture when they are aligned and focused – be it in society or the workplace.

One of the goals of this organization’s restructure and the changes being put in place is to increase efficiencies and the ability of the organization to achieve its mission. This is going to require a culture shift. By focusing on and acknowledging the specific behaviors that are desired and will help move the organization forward, the CEO will empower individuals to begin the culture shift.


People may be uncomfortable when others are promoted, but it’s through discomfort that people are able to grow. Everyone needs mentors and models who can show and teach them what success looks like.

Diamond shares that, in his opinion, we’ve become a victimized society. We tend to look more at behaviors or achievements that are lower or lesser than our own and say, “Well, at least I’m better than that,” instead of focusing on the model of the best and saying, “Wow! I have room to grow. I’m going to strive for that.”

He encourages leaders to look forward to greatness and strive for that, and to never look downward or backward using expressions like “at least we’re better than that.”


Answer these questions often:

  • Why are we going through this change?

  • How is it related to achieving the mission?

  • What is expected, specifically, both individually and as a team, as we move the mission forward?

Sharing the goals and training people how to lead using the strategic plan is critical. Revisit the plan routinely. Teach everyone how to prioritize resources – such as time, dollars and skills – by using the plan, and encourage dialogue and questions.

Diamond talks about working with a mission-driven organization that made a choice to purchase a lower quality rubber glove because the savings could be put toward the mission. This was communicated clearly – and they used a lot of gloves!

He said with that context and understanding, every time his gloves tore, instead of focusing on what was wrong with the gloves, he was reminded of the shared commitment to the mission.


My client said, “We are going to let staff know that if the change feels like we’ve taken on too much too fast, we’re going to adjust.”

I said, “Whoa! Whoa!”

I love what Diamond shares about the sometimes adverse effect of employee engagement surveys – especially when they focus on feelings.

As I told my client, change feels uncomfortable; that is a fact. So, if you set the expectation that “We are going to do all we can to make you feel good as we go through change,” you are setting people up for disappointment, anger, resentment, and blame.

When you, instead, educate your team about the stages of change, and you increase their awareness and expectations around discomfort they’ll likely experience, you can also help them see they staying in the discomfort or moving forward with the change is a choice, and prepare them to recognize the moments when change actually feels amazing.

Implementing and facilitating change is necessary and inherently uncomfortable. When leaders aspire to make it totally comfortable or choose to pretend discomfort isn’t happening, they miss the mark completely.


As a consultant, I absolutely love the positive impact and insight my experience and skills have for leaders as they stand in the fire of change.

Beth Wonson & Company provides leadership consulting and leadership coaching to organizations, businesses, and government agencies across the United States. If this sounds like something your organization could benefit from, contact me to learn more.

How can you help us reach more leaders so they can effectively facilitate change? Go to Dynamics of Leadership on iTunes, and rate this podcast or write a review.

- Beth