Thriving in Chaos

Unexpected challenges and changes are a new reality—here’s how to cope.

March 23, 2020

By Sara Counihan

DALLAS—Chaos is an uncontrollable and unpredictable circumstance that affects each person.

“Chaos happens when reality is different than your expectations,” said Corinne Hancock, a chaos coach and keynote speaker at the NACS 2020 HR Forum, which took place earlier this month.

How we react to chaos can be the difference between success and failure and determines whether our team comes together or completely falls apart, said Hancock.

Corinne Hancock described three ways people react to chaos: avoid, blame and complain.

Hancock told a story about going on a hot air balloon ride as a young girl with her mother. She described a beautiful balloon, lifting them into the sky, allowing them to see the incredible landscape of Colorado. Midway through their ride, the pilot light suddenly blew out from a gust of wind, and the pilot did not have a lighter to reignite it. Visually in a panic, the pilot threw helmets at Hancock and her mother and told them to brace for a hard landing. Not knowing if they would make it through the landing, Hancock’s mother did her best to soothe the nerves of her daughter and readied them for landing.

“What good would it had done if my mother would have blamed the gust of wind for blowing the light out or the pilot for forgetting to bring a lighter,” asked Hancock. Instead Hancock’s mother operated in the moment to strap a helmet on her daughter, calm her and brace for impact.

Fortunately, the balloon landed safely.

“In the moment that your pilot light goes out, there’s no value in blaming, avoiding and complaining,” said Hancock.

She presented a model for how people should react in the midst of chaos.

  1. Prepare: Are you chaos ready?
  2. Do: What do you do when chaos hits?
  3. Be: Who are you being?
  4. Adjust: How do you use this chaos to your advantage?

Hancock said that companies can prepare for chaos by clarifying their mission and making sure their employees know the mission, as well as their role within the mission and their leaders’ roles.

“Ask people what their role is. ‘What do you think you’re responsible for?’ And in turn, ask, ‘what do you think my role is and what I’m responsible for?’” said Hancock.

What you do when chaos hits can make a huge impact on your employees and your company. Hancock advises to remember your mission, assess and evaluate the situation and get creative when obvious solutions are no longer on the table.

She also said to take the word “agreement” out of your vocabulary during this time, because “people will do things just to not agree,” she said. Instead think about aligning everyone to the mission and goals.

Hancock then posed the question, “Who are you being in the midst of chaos?”

“Who are you going to be to change the culture in your company,” asked Hancock, “Because how you’re being is how everyone else is going to show up.” If you are panicking, blaming or complaining, so will your employees, she said.

Hancock said you must take on the responsibility for your team, their reactions and ultimately, finding the solution to thrive in chaos.

“Are they [your team] focusing on the problem or the solution?” asked Hancock. “Are you adding to the chaos, or are you solving the problem?”

Perhaps the most important piece of the chaos model is how someone will adjust to the chaos and use it to their advantage.

“Chaos makes you stronger,” said Hancock. “Looking back, you are the proudest of the results after the chaos.”

According to Hancock, chaos has a unique way of bringing together and building up a team or tearing it apart. How will you use chaos to build a stronger team, yield unexpected, yet extraordinary results and thrive the next time chaos comes knocking?

Sara Counihan is managing editor of NACS Magazine and content project manager at NACS.

To read more coverage of the NACS 2020 HR Forum, see “Learning From One Another,” “Putting People First on the Job” and “How HR Can Navigate COVID-19” in NACS Daily.