During Times of Change, Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The flight was just about to take off, when abruptly it turned around and headed back to the gate. The pilot told us it was a mechanical problem and that they'd get back to us. And then they didn't. For the next 15 minutes I watched people begin to spiral into a panic. Should we call customer service? Should we get off the flight? What kind mechanical? Any time estimates? Finally, the pilot came on to let us know the status and everyone calmed down. The funny thing is that he told us he really didn't know much and that he'd get back to us soon. But that's really all we needed at that moment. Ultimately the flight took off and landed with out a problem, but, it was with a single communication that the pilot avoided people's panic.
During times of change, your staff needs to hear from you more than ever. Make it a habit to check in on the status of changes with them regularly EVEN when nothing has changed. If you don't, they may assume you are out of the loop or even worse, they may believe you know and are just not caring enough to keep them informed.
Organizations Don't Change. People Do.
Individual change management means understanding how one person successfully makes a change.
No matter how large a project you are taking on, the success of that project ultimately lies with each employee doing their work differently, multiplied across all of the employees impacted by the change. Effective change management requires an understanding for and appreciation of how one person makes a change successfully. Without an individual perspective, we are left with activities but no idea of the goal or outcome that we are trying to achieve.
Use the four components of change to help people through their individual change journey:
- Awareness - do they have a clear awareness of why the change is necessary or happening?
- Motivation - do they feel any motivation to change? Have we discussed the personal benefits of the change to them? How do those benefits align with their values?
- Knowledge - Do they have the information they need to make the changes?
- Skills - Have they had an opportunity to practice in prep for the change or actually do the things that will be necessary?
It's pretty typical for change sponsors to be involved heavily at the inception of the change, communicating and acting as a champion for the soon to be rolled out initiative. Then, they hand it off to middle managers and move onto the next big strategic move. The problem with that scenario is that the front line staff will continue to need to see those sponsors periodically in the preparation and execution of the changes in order to feel their commitment and backing.
So what's the answer? This is where you come in. There are several critical roles for middle managers in implementing changes and this is one of the most valuable. Determine when your team needs that infusion of motivation or even recognition from the change sponsor. Act as a true liaison, and let the sponsor know how they can best engage, while being respectful of their time.
- Is there a team meeting coming up, where the sponsor could give an update and take questions from the team?
- It might even be helpful to ask the sponsor to kick off (either live or virtually) the training program if your team is learning the new skills necessary to change successfully.
- If the change is rolling and starting in different areas at different times, invite the sponsor to visit with your team within the first week of any changes to show their support.
Keeping people motivated and positive during changes is not always easy, but you're not in it alone. An engaged and visible sponsor is the number one factor in change success and they just need a little help from you to know when is the right time.
Be an Advocate for Change.
It's not always easy for managers to know what their role is during changes. Here are two big ones. Be a role model and an advocate for changes. Even when you have not been actively involved in planning the change, it's your role to dig in and figure out how to advocate with others for the change. As a leader, people will be watching and listening to see how you respond to the change and will often follow your lead. But what if you don't agree with the change?
Then it's even more important that you don't play a passive role. You have the opportunity to dig in ask for the information about why the change is necessary and really investigate in order to convince yourself. In doing that, you'll often find exactly the information that others are missing too. Or you'll point out and important barrier that may have been overlooked and help the change sponsor make adjustments. It takes courage to be that manager, but be that leader!
It has been said many times that people hate change. I don't really believe that's true. I believe they hate pain. And unfortunately, many people perceive that change equals pain, and therefore must be resisted. The fact is that they come by this belief honestly. For many, life has shown them that workplace changes can bring anything from the unpleasant experience of having to unlearn a process or system that they "knew so well" to devastating changes that lead to relocation and even job loss. So, what can you do about it?
To be proactive, try to anticipate where resistance will come from for your team. In other words, can you see where this change might cause loss or fear for each person affected?
Be supportive and empathetic. Expect resistance and give people time to talk about their feelings about the change.
Be creative and look for ways to mitigate negative consequences of changes. Small accommodations can make a huge difference for people and turn a negative response to a positive one very quickly.
Don’t Fear Their Voice; Fear Their Quiet
Have you ever had someone get so fearful or frustrated that they simply shut down and refuse to talk to you about it? This is often the warning sign that managers and leaders miss. When people experience fear of change, they may argue and complain, but they may also become very quiet and pensive. In extreme cases they may take time off and even quit. Like everyone else, they need an opportunity to talk about their concerns but may not feel like they can bring it up. How do we handle it as a manager?
- Stay alert for the quieter responses to changes and approach individually to determine if resistance exists.
- Surface the resistance by asking for feedback on the change and how they might see it going.
- When they do share, be very appreciative of their honesty and validate their point of view or feelings.
- Try to explore ways to mitigate their concerns or gather information for them that they may be missing.
- Plan to circle back and check in with them frequently during the change process as they may need a little extra support.
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