Managing Through Change
by Jacquie Wise
Image – team holding hands
Most people experience major change as unsettling. Even if it’s a change for the better and everyone is looking forward to positive outcomes. Good management can mitigate some of the costly, negative impacts of change. If you’re aspiring to good leadership, this is what it looks like at any time.
Whether you’re a CEO, managing change for your organisation, a team leader managing a team as they face disruption, or an individual managing changes in your work life, the strategies are similar. These principles of good leadership need to be in place at all times, not only in times of change.
As a consultant, I’ve been brought in to help organisations solve staff problems related to negative reactions and behaviour or to low morale—that all could have been avoided, had the change been better managed from the start.
It begins with good planning leading up to the change
Your aim through the change is to ensure continued productivity and participation in the different requirements. Getting everyone on board can be challenging.
Have a strategy in place for disseminating and regularly updating information throughout the organisation.
Organise quality control groups, team discussion groups, or task forces.
Do a review of your company’s policies and procedures to identify those that need to be rewritten.
What training do team leaders need?
Are you sure your leaders can adequately manage people through the challenges they face? A good leader provides encouragement as well as giving clear directives.
I’ve seen too many people promoted to leadership positions just because they are technical experts. It doesn’t mean they are naturally people experts.
Poor leadership can cause untold damage to the success of any plan and, indeed, to the success of a company.
Loyalty works both ways
If people are ill informed, the long-term costs are serious. Certainly, there are times when confidentiality needs to be maintained, but staff need to know they can trust their management to take care of their interests.
People will speculate, but speculation fed by fear rapidly becomes a poison of negativity.
Spreading rumours get out of hand if they’re not stamped out quickly, preferably before they’ve had a chance to even begin circulating.
Transparency from the start is essential
If you’re reading this as an individual facing personal changes, the questions can be adapted to your own life and how much research you’ve done to ensure you’re well informed about all possibilities.
As a leader, are you yourself clear as to the reasons for the change, what to expect, and the outcomes we’re all reaching for on the other side of the chaos?
How well has the impact of the change and the process been explained to everyone who will be affected by it? How well have you briefed those who will pass on the information?
Be clear on performance expectations
The expectations of staff at all levels can be compromised by the changing contexts in which they find themselves. Management needs to ensure all team members understand their roles, to whom they report and exactly for what they are accountable—the ‘who, why, what when, where’ of any good directive.
If their roles have not changed, that information still needs to be reinforced, to allay fears and confusions.
Ensure that procedures are documented
The best people to at least write the first draft of a procedure are those doing the job. Not having written—and continually updated—procedures costs the company in training time, in errors that continually need to be corrected, in communication frustrations and in loss of trust.
Make sure time estimates are realistic
As much as stages and processes need to be clear, so do time lines. As a leader, you will already know how important it is to get feedback from those involved in getting the job done. And yet—how often I’ve seen it ignored!
One thing that is often overlooked is that more time needs to be added to the time-estimate if people are having to learn new procedures. They not only have to learn the new way, but they need to unlearn the habitual way they’ve been doing things, sometimes for years. Mistakes will be made. Resistance will be encountered. The process just cannot be rushed.
Be mindful of the devastation change can cause
Change brings up feelings of insecurity, shock, maybe overwhelm and possibly grief as we let go of the past.
If people are losing the authority they once had, their self-esteem will plummet. Shock is usually the result of insufficient warning. It is vital to ease people into the changes and, if possible, to find a meaningful substitute for the autonomy and prestige they’re losing.
In what way do team member behaviours need to be different to accomplish the required results? Are they clear on expectations and how to change? Are you sure?
It might be necessary to provide staff with coaching to help them adapt, or with counselling, be if for emotional support or outplacement. That includes coaching for leaders.
Respect the contributions from those responsible for getting the job done
You can mitigate the many negative impacts on productivity by organising regular briefing meetings with staff at all levels, allowing them the opportunity to ask questions and raise issues they’re facing, about which management may be unaware.
Yes, it takes time, but it actually saves more time by providing opportunities to resolve issues before they become problems.
Group discussions are team-building exercises. Getting feedback and contributions to decisions from the staff gives them ownership to the final decision made. If they own it, they will be motivated to working towards its success.
The workers themselves are the best ones to come up with ideas to improve procedures, ideas for new products, ideas to solve problems.
If you’re an individual facing change in your company, it can be equally challenging to keep your motivation going.
Sometimes, you have to show your leader, by example, what needs to be done. Increase communication, check new procedures, time-frames and realistic expectations.
Maybe find a mentor in your organisation who can advise you as you encounter difficulties. Leadership can start from the ground up.
Finding answers to questions such as these raises ownership, resilience and resourcefulness at all levels.
I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here. What are your experiences of change and of leadership? I’d love to hear your stories.. You can give me your feedback, ask a question by email or post a comment below.
If you or someone you know would like to see me privately, please call +61 3 9690 8159.
Any information presented on our website is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.
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