Section Image: Abbie Shipp

How to Utilize Change Leadership During Times of Crisis

Rocked by a global pandemic and uncertain economy, Management and Leadership Professor Abbie Shipp offers ways business leaders can position their businesses for future success.

July 24, 2020

By Abbie Shipp in an interview with Jason McCann, CEO of Vari®

Abbie ShippDr. Abbie Shipp, professor and department chair of management and leadership at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business, recently sat down with Jason McCann, CEO of Vari®, a workspace innovation company, to discuss change management during times of crisis. Here are the main takeaways that high-growth business owners and leadership teams need to consider.

Embrace Change

“I think every business right now is saying, ‘if we don’t embrace change, we die,’” says Dr. Shipp. “Change is the only constant.”

While it can feel tempting to maintain the status quo as a means of self-preservation, sometimes bold action and a new way of thinking are exactly what’s needed. Business leaders must be willing to think outside the box and put aside arguments of “this is the way we’ve always done it” to brainstorm solutions that may be better suited for the present and the future. Since 50 to 70 percent of planned changes fail, Dr. Shipp says leaders must keep an open mind as they come up with new strategies.

Become Comfortable with Ambiguity

Humans crave certainty. We long to follow a set of steps to guarantee specific results. But when it comes to change, there’s no set plan businesses can follow to guarantee a certain outcome, in large part because companies are made up of people whose experiences, feelings and perceptions are ever changing.

“I talk a lot about moving from change management to change leadership,” says Dr. Shipp. “Change management talks about, ‘What do we want to do? What’s the structure and the strategy?’ Change leadership asks, ‘What are people capable of? What are they interested in? What are they passionate about?’ Instead of focusing on what to do, you focus on who’s doing it and how they’re doing it.”

Studies have shown that it’s better to choose a strategy that fits your culture rather than hoping your culture changes to fit your new strategy, because people are such an important part of the change process.

Engage with Your Employees

“Management by walking around is an old technique, but it still works,” Dr. Shipp says. She recommends leaders engage with their employees as much as possible to find out what difficulties they’re experiencing and what issues they’re dealing with. It’s important to cultivate a mindset in your business where taking risks and failing is okay because it means you’ve tried something new.

When you’re having a crisis, Dr. Shipp says the first thing you should do is check on your people in order to cultivate an employee-first culture.

Keep the Communication Lines Open

Businesses are still in a crisis because of COVID-19. “We’re not in the first few days of ‘how will we do business?’ We’re in the ‘What does this look like?’” Dr. Shipp says.

It’s imperative to keep communication channels open, answer any questions employees may have, and gauge what’s working and what’s not working.

“You almost can’t overcommunicate,” says Dr. Shipp. “I’ve never heard employees complain, ‘This was too much communication.’”

By embracing change, welcoming ambiguity and communicating with employees, businesses can set themselves up for success—both during COVID-19 and beyond.

Watch the full video interview on the Vari website here:

Photo: Abbie Shipp

Abbie Shipp

M.J. Neeley Professor of Management
Management and Leadership Department

Neeley 3308