Whoever came up with the quote, “The only person who likes change is a wet baby”, has clearly never changed a baby’s diaper. No one likes change. When my kids were babies, they might have been grateful for the outcome that change brings, but they still didn’t like the process.
Here’s the issue for those of us who manage people, products, or businesses – change is inevitable. Culture changes. The people above us make changes. Sometimes, we are the ones instigating and leading the change. In order to manage well, we have to become skilled at navigating and leading through change. I’ve had my fair share of successes and failures when it comes to navigating change, so today I offer some of my best strategies for managing people in the middle of change.
Embrace Change as an Opportunity: This first step involves a shift in mindset.
This has been incredibly important for me, especially when the change was not my idea. Covid is the example that comes to mind, but there have been plenty of times in my career when a decision was made above me. Either way, this type of change created both fear and resistance. My key action step was to take fear and resistance off the table. I carved out some time in my calendar to wrestle with this question: what if I wasn’t afraid?
When I removed fear or resistance as options, I was able to see the potential opportunities for learning, growth, and innovation. Most importantly, I was able to communicate effectively with the people I managed.Dr. Ben Redmond
Communicate Even When It’s Hard: Communicating is important all of the time, but it is exponentially important during change.
This was especially true for me when the change was my idea, but I knew it would be unpopular. In my younger years, I would communicate the bare minimum in an effort to keep people happy. Here’s a spoiler alert: that has never worked in the history of management.
As I’ve gotten significantly older and somewhat wiser, I’ve realized this: communication can cause short-term complication, but it always leads to a better place long-term. Why? Because communication builds trust, and most people are fine to disagree with you as long as they know that you’re trustworthy.
Have A Plan Before You Communicate: This is one that often trips up even the best-intentioned managers. If you know that a change is needed but you fail to create a roadmap for the change, you will end up with a frustrated team.
Don’t forget – change naturally produces anxiety and resistance. Why? Because change produces uncertainty. Before you communicate, make sure that you’ve thought through the clear objectives, the timelines, the milestones, and then payoffs. Let your team know where you are going, why you are going there, how you will get there, and what happens when you arrive. Having a well-thought-out plan can help your team navigate change with more confidence and clarity.
Empower Your Team: The most successful change that I’ve ever managed was one the least popular ones. We were changing the roles of some people on the team.
It was best for business, but people were frustrated. A mentor encouraged me to give my team members the autonomy to own the change. Everyone was already frustrated, so I didn’t feel like I had anything to lose. I explained to the team that this change was happening, and gave them a week to come up with their best solutions and strategies, given the upcoming change. What we ended up with was about 75% of what needed to happen, and a team that was committed to tackle the challenges. Remember, you don’t have to avoid change in order to empower your team. If your team members have a seat at the table, your chances of successful change go up significantly.
Build Resilience Into Your Culture: This strategy is one I had to learn the hard way. After a series of changes left our team on shaky ground, I was forced to ask myself why we were so bad at change?
One of the answers was that our team lacked resilience. I had not done a good job at creating a culture where people could bounce back from setbacks or adapt to new circumstances. Just to be clear – this strategy will not work in the middle of a change, but it can make change easier if you build resilience into your culture. Think about leading your team through some resiliency training. If you aren’t sure where to start, Five Capitals can help!
Stay Flexible: Earlier I shared a story about a change that reached 75% of my desired outcomes.
Did any of you wince a little at that number? Many managers can fall victim to an, “all-or-nothing” mentality when it comes to change, but this will only result in unnecessary complication. Change is a dynamic process, so make sure you are continuously getting feedback from your team – especially if you’ve empowered them to lead the change. Great managers have an iterative and agile approach to change, which makes sure that your strategies stay aligned with evolving circumstances.
Some of the best things that I’ve experienced professionally have come on the other side of change that I didn’t create or even want. What I’ve learned is that managers make all the difference when it comes to how a team embraces and navigates change. You might not have control over what changes or when, but you always have the ability to lead yourself and others in a way that takes you and your business to greater heights.