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Dealing With Uncertainty and Embracing Change in the Workplace

Dealing With Uncertainty and Embracing Change in the Workplace

by Dean Jones

Story Highlights

  • A strengths-based approach to change can ease employee uncertainty
  • Follow these five recommendations to build employee resiliency before change occurs

Change is here. With the widespread shift to remote and hybrid work, economic uncertainty, and growing technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence, change is now a sure thing for organizations rather than a possibility. Are your employees ready for it?

If you ask them, they will likely say no. Gallup research finds that just 15% of U.S. employees agree that their organization’s leadership makes them feel enthusiastic about the future. While companies want a resilient workforce that is ready and willing to adapt to ever-shifting demands, employees who don’t have reliable strategies to help address these fluctuations in the workplace can feel blindsided and not up for the challenges.

An antidote to this anxiety? A strengths-based approach to change.


How CliftonStrengths Creates Resiliency

Every change management expert says that change is hard -- but why? Change creates a loss of control, an increase in uncertainty and discomfort. Employees may question their value, contributions and even their competence and efficacy.

That’s why dealing with change can be a major factor in burnout. Seventy-three percent of full-time employees say they experience burnout on the job at least sometimes, and burned-out employees are 13% less confident in their performance.

Employees who don’t have reliable strategies to help address these fluctuations in the workplace can feel blindsided and not up for the challenges.

Employees who experience burnout are also 23% more likely to visit the emergency room and 63% more likely to take a sick day. Stress related to change can hinder employees’ wellbeing, and when wellbeing is low, it’s likely teams aren’t in the right state of mind to take on new responsibilities.

It’s vital that organizations develop their employees’ individual strengths and encourage them to use those strengths in times of difficulty. Employees who know and use their strengths are nearly six times more engaged, have higher performance and are much less likely to leave their company. These employees are better at knowing how to deal with uncertainty using reliable, strengths-based strategies that reinforce their talents and build confidence.

If you start by identifying talents and then develop them into strengths, you’ll give your employees the tools they need to thrive.

5 Strengths-Based Ways to Build Resilience

While a strengths-based approach to work can provide employees the resilience they need during uncertain times (and maybe they’ve already taken the CliftonStrengths assessment), how do you make it happen? When managing change in the workplace, there are five key ways to support your employees.

You can use any of the five methods in any order at any time based on your team’s or organization’s familiarity with strengths.

1. Ensure employees understand the extent of their talent themes.

While employees who have taken their CliftonStrengths assessment are likely aware of their top five or all 34 strengths, it’s important that they don’t reduce these themes to one trait. Each theme is made up of multiple characteristics that employees can use in different situations.

For example, someone with high Competition talents might think they just want to win, but it’s more complex than that. They may also be excellent at engaging colleagues because of their ability to take charge, speak up and make sure others are heard. Both traits are powerful when things get turbulent at work. Knowing that they are more than just a competitor trying to win, this employee is more likely to have more confidence in their value and is better able to contribute regardless of the circumstances.

2. Help employees develop their self-awareness.

For strengths to become a reliable tool in uncertain times, employees need to be aware of their talent themes and where they have room to grow. This involves reflecting on how using their talents contributes to success.

As your employees explore their top themes and increase their understanding of them, you can help them begin using those themes to be more resilient. Ask your team:

Where do you see your themes in action in your life?

How do you see your successes connecting to your talents?

What themes do you lead with, and how can you embrace them?

Increasing strengths awareness helps employees understand how they will handle change at work and how they’ll handle variability in life. Knowing what themes to lean on when things get tough gives your employees a proven approach to change and an advantage during an organizational initiative and major life shifts. This creates greater stability overall.

3. Transform talent themes into strengths.

“Talents” and “strengths” may sound interchangeable, but they’re distinct. Talent is a potential for excellence: someone on your team may have great execution or relationship talents, for instance. But strengths are about application: Have they applied those execution or relationship talents in a way that delivers nearly perfect performance consistently?

An employee is using their strengths when they produce consistent, repeatable results. At this stage, your team should explore what their strengths look like when they rely on them every day.

Employees’ awareness of what it feels like to use their strengths daily shows them that they can lean into their areas of strength to excel in times of pressure.

But strengths are about application: Have they applied those execution or relationship talents in a way that delivers nearly perfect performance consistently?

4. Use strategies that are based on strengths.

Dealing with unpredictability is always challenging, but with strengths-based strategies, your employees can avoid overwhelming stress by leaning on repeatable responses.

Have employees explore strategies for success that are based on their unique combination of talents and strengths. These methods can reliably produce results for them and others.

Consider a scenario where you ask an employee to lead the organization in a new initiative. Before knowing and using their strengths, this employee might not have recognized their need to relate to others or how their lack of organization creates challenges for others. And without this knowledge, the project could encounter early setbacks as this employee and the team figures out the best way to interact with each other.

But because you made a culture change based on CliftonStrengths, this employee knows that they lead with relationship building themes and lack strong execution themes. They recognize that if they invest in relationships and delegate tasks related to arranging and implementing to others, they feel more confident managing the project. They’re no longer afraid to ask questions or lean on others’ expertise -- it’s how they do their best work.

By repeating these strategies, this employee can successfully lead the project -- and awareness of strengths from the outset allows the team to confidently take the first step.

5. Practice self-expression and self-regulation of strengths.

Your team members should feel like they can express themselves through their CliftonStrengths. But this also means they must regulate the expression of those strengths so that they don’t hinder themselves or others.

A person who leads with Activator might feel ready to call a partner to talk the moment they hear about a new project. Activators are great motivators, and that enthusiasm is valuable, but it’s better if they consider others’ strengths and work styles before taking action.

A regulated Activator recognizes that their partners need more context before they feel comfortable talking or acting on information. They can still start the conversation later, but with more details or materials ready. Ultimately, this delay in action means everyone involved can approach their work in a way they’re comfortable with.

Have employees explore strategies for success that are based on their unique combination of talents and strengths.

Self-expression and self-regulation can coexist when your team members adjust the expression of their strengths and consider their impact on their team members. This is particularly valuable during times of change, increasing collaboration and efficiency.

This is also how you develop true strengths-based leaders -- those who express their talents and strengths at a high level but also consider others’ strengths before applying their own strengths.

Lead With Communication and Transparency

If developing a resilient team sounds hard, that’s OK. Remember that managers have the greatest impact on the people they manage. Even disengaged employees might look to their direct manager for stability and guidance in uncertain times. Managers can prepare for change by having regular, meaningful conversations with their employees and helping them integrate their strengths into their daily work.

How managers communicate about changes also matters. A manager who knows their team’s strengths can communicate change in a way that makes sense and feels better for employees.

A strengths-based approach means there’s no one way to respond to change, but you can make it a collaborative and confidence-building experience that creates space for employees to do what they do best using their strengths.

Create a culture with resilient, strengths-focused employees:

CliftonStrengths® and each of the 34 CliftonStrengths theme names are trademarks of Gallup. Copyright © 2000 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.


Dean Jones is a Global Talent Development Architect at Gallup.

Rachael Smith contributed to this article.

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