Change is hard, and managing change is even harder.
But during times of change is when it is most important to be thoughtful in how you communicate with your team. It’s a big deal.
But as a leader, at every level, this is not easy!
When change happens in your organization, you are expected to quickly deal with your own trust issues while also addressing concerns from your team. And while employees and supervisors on the frontline may feel like it “must be nice” to be a decision-maker in a massive organization, the truth is managing change gets even more difficult as you move up in an organization
- The stakes are higher.
- There is more visibility.
- There are more variables out of your control.
Do not ever underestimate the impact change management has on your organization:
- 31% of CEOs are fired for not managing organizational change well enough.
- 70% of all organizational transformation and change initiatives fail.
- Company-wide change efforts are 12.4 times more likely to be successful when senior managers communicate continually.
- Less than 10% of leaders have the right capabilities and experiences required to successfully lead transformations.
Tl;dr: Being able to manage change is critical, but still very few leaders are prepared to do it well. WTF
Change is hard because people are unpredictable. Even when change may seem extremely positive, some people on your team will struggle.
But let’s focus on the things in our control, because there are things you can focus on to ensure your team feels supported and prepared to execute change. These things will help you stand out.
A story about a communication breakdown
Managers were stressed and unhappy.
The company missed its goals for the 2nd straight quarter.
The company was considering making big changes to their work from home policy. But the leadership team wasn’t aligned on what the change should be. So they tried to send out an email addressing concerns they had about the business and hinting at a few changes they were considering.
Unfortunately, the email that was sent did not communicate this very well. It was vague and slightly terrifying. The most skeptical employees read portions of it as a sign of more layoffs.
The last line of the email read, “Please talk to your managers about any questions you might have.”
But the managers were not prepared for the barrage of questions they received following the email, they did not have any answers, and they knew nothing outside of what was shared in the email itself. This situation was especially challenging for the managers who take pride in doing a good job supporting their team. They wanted to be able to help, but didn’t have the tools or resources needed to do so.
Sheryl was a director on a much-needed vacation with her family. It had been a grueling year with more conversations around “Work life integration” than opportunities to spend time with her family.
“Just leave your cell phone here,” her son Matt told her as they left the hotel for dinner.
She should have listened.
She ignored the first few buzzes. Then she realized something was wrong…
She heard an email was coming but didn’t understand exactly what was going to be communicated or when.
“What do we do?”
“I know you are on vacation. Sorry to bother you but…”
“Why didn’t you tell me this was coming?”
“People are freaking out about this. Want to be sure we are on the same page…”
Sheryl shook her head and returned her phone to her purse without replying. She couldn’t help but ask herself, “Why is this happening now?”
Why does this story matter?
This story serves as a reminder of the impacts of poor communication and a lack of empathy in change management. Now, imagine an alternative scenario in which the company communicated the upcoming changes with clarity and involved key leaders like Sheryl in the decision-making process. Prepared and informed, Sheryl would have been able to equip her team for the transition, resulting in a smoother and less distressing experience for all.
And she would be happier in her role instead of spending time on vacation deciding whether or not its time to quit.
As leaders navigate the complexities of organizational change, it is crucial to prioritize clarity and empathy at every level. By doing so, leaders not only minimize confusion and anxiety among employees but also lay the groundwork for a more successful change process. After all, clarity fosters confidence, which is a cornerstone of effective change management.
If you want your team to be confident in the change, you need to be sure there is clarity at all levels.
Clarity creates and exudes confidence.
How do you lead in times of change?
Your expectations in times of change depends on your level of the organization.
🕶️ It’s worth noting leadership is a perspective, not a position. The best leaders learn to lead well from whatever seat they are in.
There are certain common expectations shared across all levels when creating change:
- Alignment: Sync individual, team, and organizational goals with the change strategy.
- Communication: Maintain open communication to share vision, progress, and address concerns.
- Collaboration: Work together across teams and levels for a smooth change process.
- Adaptability: Embrace new ways of working, adjust plans, and learn from outcomes.
- Accountability: Take responsibility for change success, monitor progress, and address issues.
- Leading by example: Model desired behaviors, commitment, resilience, and positivity.
Leadership is making sure your team feels prepared, equipped, and supported.
Prosci found that while 50% of those surveyed wanted organizational messages to come from the CEO or VP, 70% preferred personal communication from their direct supervisor.
Change management is a MASSIVE topic, but let’s focus on a few questions you should be able to answer to ensure your team has the clarity needed to help your team prepare to execute.
Questions you should proactively answer for your frontline employees:
- Why is the business making this change?
- What is in it for me?
- Will it make their job easier or more rewarding?
- What will the impact be on how I do my job?
- How will the change happen?
- How will I be supported?
Questions you should proactively answer for your managers:
- What is expected of me?
- How will my role as a leader be changed?
- Where can I find a breakdown of the timeline for this plan?
- How will I be supported, and who do I contact with questions?
Managers: Be sure you are asking for this information as change is communicated. It’s a great way to show leadership and show you are being proactive in your role.
Directors/VPs: Be sure your managers are equipped with this information and give them time to talk through concerns in advance. They will be able to give you valuable insights into how your team will respond and the problems they anticipate facing.
Overall you should be thinking about who is going to be impacted and what you can do to ensure everyone in your organization feels prepared and supported to navigate the change.Also, I’d love your advice. What is one tip you have to help leaders navigate change more effectively?
Jacob Espinoza is a leadership coach in Salem, Oregon. For more information visit JacobEspinoza.com.