Surviving Change, Hurricanes and Floods

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Management consultant Scott Love shares specific ways to cope with extreme change in organizations, using his community's flood experience as a metpahor.

No matter how dire the circumstance, people hold the inherent propensity deep within them to rise up and meet the challenge head-on. A few weeks ago I saw this premise in action throughout my community. The floods from hurricane Frances devastated parts of western North Carolina.

Change is inevitable, and it’s not so much change that causes anxiety and stress. It’s what may or may not happen as a result of that change. It’s not the change that we must prepare for. It’s facing the uncertain future that lay ahead. That’s the real challenge and the real issue that organizations must address if they are to adapt. Don’t focus so much on fighting the change that consumes you. Change is inevitable. Prepare instead for the unknown that lies ahead of you.

To better cope with change and the ensuing byproducts of it, it helps to understand which of the three types of change is affecting you. First, there is the type of change that is a natural evolution of growth. This occurred when the newspaper industry integrated computers to replace human workers in the typesetting of their layouts. The technology was an inevitable aspect of growth and allowed the papers to improve their effectiveness and efficiency in this task. Those who hesitated and resisted the change felt more pain than those who were quick to adapt. This type of change is known as ‘organic growth change’ and brings with it an element of predictability. You know your kid is going to grow so you might as well buy clothes of a larger size. We have no control over this force but we know this force will soon affect us, so we can prepare for it and meet it before it happens.

The second type of change is called ‘unrealized progressive change.’ We don’t know it is going to happen and we rarely know it is happening. It is subtle and unpredictable. Think of it as you sitting in your house when one of your family members lowers the thermostat setting thirty degrees without your knowledge. The temperature steadily and slowly keeps dropping, until you finally realize that it’s freezing inside. At that point you find a sweater and start griping about how cold it is. You eventually catch on to the real cause of the predicament and ameliorate the real agent of change after spending time treating a symptom of the change instead of the real cause.

The third type of change is called ‘sudden impending and immediate change.’ This type of change is extremely unpredictable and random. It is the car accident, the fire, the hurricane, and the flood. There is no way to know it is going to happen, you cannot stop it when it starts, and you have no control over the forces that affect you when it does.

Our community is still recovering from the ‘sudden impending and immediate change’ of the flood. When you face this type of change, you can get through it when you follow these four steps:

First, understand that there is nothing you can do except to know that this type of change could eventually happen. Every day when you leave your house your life is at risk. But understanding this, you build your confidence in meeting it head-on.

Second, in the middle of the crisis, you must continuously focus on your end goal. In some cases it is recovery. In others it is as bleak as basic survival. By quickly assessing your prospects for a conclusion you can start seeking the solution and take the action steps to reach it.

Third, acknowledge the emotions and feel them. This is a part of the healthy grieving process from the death of a loved one. It is normal, human, and acceptable.

Fourth, keep your attitude in check by assuming a state of gratitude for what you do have or for what is going right. In some cases you have to bring it to a state of gratitude for just your survival. Contrast your situation against what could have been more catastrophic in order to cope with it. For example, in the city of Asheville, we received four inches of rain in a single day. In other counties they got twenty. Nearly three quarters of my personal belongings were destroyed through the floods including many irreplaceable family photos. But many families lost their entire homes. The leaky ceiling in my office made the space uninhabitable, causing me to move to another space on short notice. But some businesses were ruined for good. And those entrepreneurs who lost their businesses still have their families, their health, and their lives. This is the toughest step in the process, but by looking at what you do have and giving thanks for it, you are better able to cope with your loss and face the future on more confident ground. Resiliency and gratitude go hand-in-hand.

Know that you have been given survival instincts. You were designed for adaptability and longevity. Understand your situation of change and meet it head-on. And to my fellow community members, take heart and have courage. You are a survivor.

Copyright © 2004 Scott Love

Scott Love improves employee performance by showing managers how to put the meaning back into work. To book him to speak at your association, corporate, or franchise event call him at 828-225-7700. To access his archive of leadership resources and leadership articles, visit .

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