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Advice abounds on change management, but the changes looming from the coronavirus pandemic are testing that advice. 

Change managers steer organizations to a new normal when there is a merger, acquisition, management change or major downsizing. It is change to get from known ‘here’ to a predetermined ‘there’. However, the challenge posed by the pandemic is that the ‘there’ of change is hard to describe, pin down or predict. As the pandemic persists, the ambit of change it will cause continues to expand.

“You will encounter problems and opportunities that are novel and new. Remember you are an agent of change, whether you want to be or not.”

Change won’t be limited to workspace, though that appears headed for major change, too. Change will extend to childcare, education, parenting, health care, elder care, travel, sports, entertainment, gardening, retail, lifestyle and even funerals. There isn’t an off-the-shelf book of tips for pervasive change like that.

Some observers foresee changes in America as fundamental as those resulting from the Great Recession and two world wars, changes that go far beyond industry-specific or technology disruptions. Habits have changed. Minds have changed. Lives have changed.

Your business, your job, your home may remain the same, but you will need to adapt – and perhaps even overcome – the changes the pandemic will wraught. Adaptation will involve keen observation, careful listening and loads of patience. Some of the change will be refreshing, even inspiring. Other change may be difficult and painful. That’s the reality of new normals.

Adaptation to change is markedly different from managing change. Change management implies some level of control over the change. Adaptation accepts that change will run its own course, you aren’t in control and the best you can do is keep up, looking for new opportunities as well as anticipating pitfalls.

Adapting is less about guiding and more about exploring. Adaptation welcomes change rather than dreads it and relishes new challenges rather than resists them. An unavoidable aspect of adaptation is risk-taking. You will head down trails that you’ve never ventured before. You will encounter problems and opportunities that are novel and new. You must remember you are an agent of change, whether you want to be or not.

Adaptation skills in this pandemic seachange may turn out to be the equivalent of survival skills, especially if those skills are applied to both attitude and action. Flexibility replaces routine. Resilience greets inevitable wrong turns. Self-management becomes as important as overseeing management.

Some of the hallmarks of adaptive individuals are creative thinking, continuous learning, zest for problem-solving, open-mindedness and strong interpersonal relationships. Solid communication skills are also important in the adaptation toolkit.

Think of donning protective masks and social distancing as modest dress rehearsals for the major changes ahead.

As the pandemic has altered our world, it also has given many people the space and time to contemplate change. While there may be a collective sense of cabin fever, there also should be a realization that when the pandemic passes and economies and borders reopen, change will begin to flood into our lives. Now is a good time to assess the changes that will most affect you, your family, your business and your community.

Now is a good time to begin the process of adapting to changes that you can anticipate. Now is a good time to hone your adaptation skills. You won’t be alone, but you most certainly will be on a new pathway that requires exploration, observation and adaptation.