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Leading people through change – you may be the only certainty

Updated: May 3, 2020

Do you like certainty? Well, try listening to any song you know well. You know the next part of the tune and words that go with it. And your brain has a little satisfaction party.

But then change comes along and the party’s over. So, how do you satisfy the certainty craving? The answer may be straightforward.


Our brains crave certainty. We love it. We’re addicted to it. So it doesn’t matter what you’re doing—whether it’s an everyday activity like drinking a cup of tea, cup of coffee, knowing what’s expected at you at work—all of that. When it happens your brain has a little explosion, a little happy place it goes to, when that certainty and that prediction is there.

Just think about it—if I were to hum this tune, I think you’ll know what words are coming next.

[Hums outro from “Hey Jude”]

The certainty is there the whole time. The problem is so many people are going through change at work, and guess what? They’re facing uncertainty. So when we’re uncertain our brains just have to work so much harder. They have to work emotionally harder, they have to intellectually work harder, as well. And guess what? They really don’t like it.

So what is it that leaders can do to actually help people feel that sense of certainty during change? Well, of course, there’s all the tangibles. There’s dates. There’s when things are going to happen.

There’s “what’s it going to be like”. There’s all the “this is why we’re doing it” repeated over and over again. And that’s fine but I think there’s another really important part of change leadership to help people regain some certainty. And actually it’s quite simple. It’s the leader him or herself. It’s what leaders do. It’s the trust they have with their people. It’s the authenticity they have with their people. It’s the transparency they have with their people. In other words, the certainty is actually the way the leader operates during change. They are the certainty that people will crave.

So just remember, when you’re leading people through change of course they’re going to feel uncertain. Recognise that. But also realise, by all means give them all the tangibles you can, but you may be the key certainty that they need to actually get through.


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