Commit to the Unknown

May 14, 2018 | Aubrey Wiete | Human Capital Institute (HCI)
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I! Can! Do! It! I am not typically a fan of exclaimationpointitis, but it’s a true descriptor of how I feel after recently attending and speaking at my first ATD conference, where energy and motivation gleaned.

There is a tendency in business to have an either/or mentality. We either over-engineer our initiatives, building processes that hinge on too many steps and details for people to seriously understand or implement, or we oversimplify what is needed, assuming that when we make a change in strategy or process, everyone will “get it” just by looking at it.


Change is the most common and universal currency. We age, settle down, uproot, and move through different phases of our lives, accruing different work and life experiences that shape our perception of the world. And candidly, we have no choice in the matter. We cannot remain static. In business, change defines and drives success, and those organizations unwilling to accept or evolve have found themselves unable to keep up (Blockbuster, Circuit City, Kodak, etc.).

Change is inevitable, but there is a tremendous amount of apprehension around it. Why? Two things are apparent:

1. Fear of the unknown

Anticipating -- or dreading the unknown -- change sets off a vicious cycle: the fear of something new obfuscates the excitement and opportunity of something different, pushing people further down into their comfort zones. We are creatures of habit. We crave routine, and changing that dynamic presents an uncomfortable set of questions: how do I behave now? What things need to be different than before? Why?

2. Higher expectations

Hidden within a new change initiative is the promise of progress. Sometimes change is unplanned. The unexpected happens and people must navigate a new normal, but when change is intentional, as it typically is in organizations, it is promoted as a means of improvement. Clear goals justify the effort. People will become more productive, processes will become more efficient, market share will increase. This is an exciting proposition, but also one that can be feel intimidating, especially to those who have become quite content in our little corners of the world.

Inspiring presentations and interactive sessions from some brilliant thinkers and practitioners are helping me think through these obstacles.

The truth is that effective change is somewhere in between the either/or mentality and approach. As learners and trainers in HR, we must find balance between meeting people where they are and recognizing that great progress will never come from a comfort zone. We must be willing to walk out on a ledge to experience the view. This insight is especially compelling to me as HCI rolls out its new Change Management for HR course.

Humans are designed to change no matter the messages your brain might send you, which doesn’t make things easier, but reminds us that change isn’t frightening or overwhelming. It can be done well when we consider our audience and approach them in the way that they will appreciate and understand. That alignment will make change more palatable and more possible, and the vicious cycle can be transformed into one that embraces the unknown, instead of one that runs from it.