When it comes to change, in both our professional and personal arenas, more often than not we begin to feel uncomfortable and experience various levels of anxiety. At times, change may occur because of organizational realignment, a shift in organizational strategy, or a change in our scope of responsibilities. Change often fosters feelings of uncertainty, adds stress, and tests our ability to handle new opportunities. We are creatures of habit so when going from predictable expectations to the unknown, our initial reaction can be one of resistance. We often perceive change as something that will undermine our performance2, however it’s important to manage our mindset first before entering into the change. Do you fight change with counterproductive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors? Or can you embrace the change and view it as a chance for growth? Becoming is better than being.
A successfully led change is a product of an organization able to recognize “that the way they changed [is] as important as the change itself1.”
As a leader, we often try to implement change on our counterparts before taking the time to internalize change in our own actions. Before asking others to make a change, great leaders will first make the change themselves and model the ideal behaviors and response. Modeling the correct behaviors is a powerful tool that can create even more buy-in from your team and neutralize resistance5. When presenting the new strategy to your team you can share the impact it has made on your role, thus building a better connection and understanding for others. It is also important for leaders to recognize that their team may need time to understand, accept, and commit to the change. It is the responsibility of the leader to preserve the culture of their team and realize that the application of the new strategy is dependent upon building from past successes in order to meet the challenges of the future1.
Another responsibility of leading change is actively allotting time for those affected to comprehend the “why” behind it all and the benefits it presents to the team. An individual will be more committed to the process knowing it is in their best interest to do things differently and commit to the new plan of action. The more you can involve your employees in the change process the more self-determined they will be to see things to fruition. As human beings, we thrive knowing we have autonomy in the things that we do, that we are competent doing those things, and we can relate to others while doing it or share the experience.3
Leading change management involves meeting those who are crucial to the change, where they are at emotionally, mentally and physically. The attitude your team will have towards change starts with denial. The denying phase is where employees are either, but not limited to reminiscing on the good old days, are attune to rumors or they are numb from fear. Next employees and team members will go through various forms of resistance and form a reaction.
They might feel a sense of loss or anger towards the change, start complaining or feel a sense of doubt for a few examples. For example, HigherEchelon worked with an organization going through a large-scale change effort to digitize every paper file and reduce paper use to as little as possible. Many of the employees were very resistant to this change, and when the time came for them to turn over their paper files to the scanner, they not only resisted but some went so far as to hide their paper files to avoid this change.
Thirdly, your counterparts will enter the exploration phase. Possibilities and anticipation are being considered but there’s still the possibility of unfocused work and indecisiveness. It’s important to allow them to explore proposed alternatives so there is strong commitment when they completely commit to the change. Lastly, your team and the organizational change have committed to each other. Employees have found direction, are focused on the clear vision, and pull together to make what needs to be done happen. Meeting your team where they are in terms of change allows you, as a leader, to embody a team mindset, charter improvement opportunities and strategies, set realistic expectations, and reward results.
Managing change is a difficult task, but there are prerequisites leaders can undertake for the proposed, organizational change to be set up for success. As a leader, one should self-reflect on the change one is advising and initiate first with your own changed actions. Understand that your employees need unlimited channels of communication to better grasp what’s being asked for them to take ownership, and envision the benefits. All great things take time. Instill a change in your organization as a personal challenge that you believe everyone can achieve.
If you are interested in learning more about how to lead change management feel free to reach out to Higher Echelon for more specific ideas.
- “8 Tips to Help Managers and Employees Deal with Organizational Change”: available Peter Barron Stark Companies, March 19, 2010
- “Leading and Managing Change”: available Graziadio Business Review, Dr. Christopher G. Worley
- “10 Tips for Dealing with Change Positively in Your Workplace”: available LinkedIn, Ban Weston, February 23, 2015
- “Deep Change, Discovering the Leader Within”, Robert E. Quinn, 1996