Leading Through Change

Leadership in Times of Change

You may have heard the old saying, “Everyone is for change as long as they don’t have to make a change!”  It’s so true.  For many of us a change, no matter how small, can be difficult, overwhelming and stressful.  

The #1 question I am receiving from business leaders and owners I consult to is,  “What can I do to minimize the stress my team members are feeling due to changes we need to make?”  

It’s mission-critical to take the time and create a plan to help employees navigate both personal and professional change. In business, our employees’ reaction to change can affect their job satisfaction, overall productivity and, ultimately, the company’s bottom-line results.  How do we, as leaders, help team members move forward on the path of change to create, embrace and thrive in their new reality? 

Brain research holds the key to the answer.  When a change happens, no matter how small, our brains are wired to go through a period of grief.  Even if we experience a happy change, such as a wedding or a job promotion, we feel a sense of loss.  Rightly so, something is ending and something new is beginning.  Our old way of being, our normal, is now gone and we find ourselves having to create a new normal.  This can be difficult because our brains want us to go back to the old way and, in the process, we resist creating and embracing the new way.  

Being in this “in-between” time, we know we can’t go back to the way things “used to be”.  But, we are resisting moving forward, too. We are in transition. This can lead to being stuck in fear, anxiety, despair and chaos.  We find ourselves thinking the worst and wondering “When will life get back to normal again?”  And the truth is that its up to us to create and embrace our new normal, for ourselves and also for those that we lead, to positively impact morale and profits.  

Imagine yourself driving the same way to work at the same time everyday for years. This is your status quo, your “normal”.   One day you see a sink hole in the middle of the road blocking your way!  This puts you in a tailspin! Not only will you have to find another route to get to work, but you will also be late!! You might feel irritated, annoyed, perhaps confused and even angry that this sink hole has now messed up your morning commute, your attitude and your life!  Reacting to that sink hole in this way is what a change might feel like.  You find yourself stuck in fear, anxiety and chaos as you scramble around to backtrack and find a new way to get to work. 

As leaders and founders, we instinctively understand that we don’t want our teams to be operating from fear and chaos.  We know that if they are in this anxious place inside their heads, they won’t be productive or happy employees.  What are some ways we can better lead through this challenge called change?

I’m sharing these three strategies a leader can use to help people embrace the new way of doing things and support them in creating their new post-change realities. 

  1. Listen, alleviate fear and provide resources: Do your employees feel heard when they talk with you or are your preoccupied and disengaged in discussions with them?  When we put aside distractions and really listen to what people are afraid of, we can help calm their fears about the changes we are asking them to make.  Offer resources such as the phone number to your companies Employee Assistance Program or links to websites where they may find the support they need to move through the fear and grief a change can ignite. 
  2. A Long Lead Time: Some employees can be early adapters and “change agents”.  If you mention the word “change” they move full speed ahead.  Yet, many are “reluctant changers”.    They see no reason for doing anything differently-ever!  Our reluctant changers will benefit from knowing about any proposed change well in advance of when it will take affect.  This will give them time to think through the change, ask questions and navigate it for a better end-game result.  
  3. Break Down the Process: If a person is reluctant to make a change they could be anxious or fearful without being aware of the reason for their resistance.  If you map out the change with realistic and honest timelines, and help the reluctant person understand the process step-by-step, they will feel a greater sense of clarity and control.  This will help the change move forward more smoothly overall. 

Anticipating and understanding our role in managing the change process is the foundational skill of solid leadership.  Using these three strategies will help minimize employee fear and lead to better results for all concerned-the employees, the company and the clients. 

In this brief article, I’ve just touched on three of the many strategies that can be employed to lead and manage through change.  Visit RitaPerea.com to schedule a complimentary strategy call with me and I’ll help you discover new solutions to navigate the challenges of change in your organization.  

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