Leading change is one of the most complex challenges a leader can face.
I was coaching two leaders recently whose teams were restructured and merged. The teams had lost two members and a beloved manager. Territory maps were being redrawn, their business unit was now dissolved and they were reporting to a new group.
Over a six-month coaching initiative, I supported them though this process. Here are six lessons learned which helped them successfully lead this change.
1. Understand the Change Curve – Leaders need to consider the emotional aspect as much as the logistical aspect of change. They need to think about the whole individual – how is this change impacting people mentally and emotionally, as well as logistically.
Becoming familiar with the Change Curve is helpful. The Change Curve maps out the process people go through in coping with change. The 4 stages are:
We often want to skip one of these stages, but this process cannot be rushed. When leaders are aware of an impending change for a period of time before it is announced, they can become impatient for their people to get to the commitment phase. They have already moved through the Change Curve, but their teams haven’t had a chance to do this. It’s unrealistic for those who are in denial or resisting this change to suddenly commit. This takes time.
2. Leading Change is Not an Event – Too often change is treated as an event to be announced, but it’s much more than that. Change is a messy process, so although we want it to be neat, measured and quantifiable, we need to get more comfortable with the messiness. In our current business environment, change is constant and it’s never finished.
3. Transparency Builds Trust – I have seen many clients hide change until the last possible moment it is announced. Sometimes they are so secretive about the change it’s as if they are guarding the nuclear codes. Organizations do this to control the message until they are ready to announce it. Wanting to take this approach is understandable, except that your people know something is going on. In the absence of information, rumors, stories, and paranoia fill the vacuum. This is not heathy for any organization.
Often the change is held so closely to the vest that it is communicated to managers at the same time – or an hour before on a separate call – as their staff. There is no time for the managers to move through the change themselves and create a communication and coaching plan to support their teams. An organization may want to engender trust, but only can do that through being more transparent.
4. Reach Out to Individuals, Not Just Groups – As Michele Pepe, a senior facilitator/coach, says, “People need to be given a forum where they can react, be heard and move on.” There is a tendency to share the change in groups – in town halls, conference calls, and emails. People do not ask questions or share their concerns in these situations. Since their issues never get aired or resolved, their resistance persists. We often get calls from managers who are frustrated because issues from a change that happened six months or a year ago continue to fester. Frequently this is because they never communicated one-on-one, and people don’t feel heard. If the team is too large for you to communicate one-on-one with all group members, managers can do this.
5. Use Empathetic Toughness – It is important for leaders to make tough decisions, but you can communicate them in an empathetic way. It can help to let the group know why the decision was made, and that you understand their feelings. You may even share that you initially struggled with the change, too, but came to understand that it is necessary from a business perspective. Once people have aired their feelings and been heard, you need to ask people if they are on board. You need to ask for their commitment.
6. Overcommunicate – When leading people through change, you cannot communicate enough. One-on-one conversations and meetings – or regular weekly calls for field-based groups – help people to move through change, build trust and adjust to their new normal. Too often, managers disappear for a time because they have no new information to share with the team or do not yet have answers to their concerns and questions. Be present for your team and resist the urge to “ghost.” As Michele Pepe says, “What people need during change is for their managers to prioritize, give direction and communicate. Don’t disappear!”
Change is challenging, but by following these six tips you can build trust, commitment and resiliency in your teams.
Amy Glass is executive vice president at BRODY Professional Development. Amy can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.