As they say, there are only three things that are certain in life – death, taxes and change. Today, a key trait that identifies the best managers from the rest is their ability to help their teams traverse workplace changes rapidly in order to take advantages of opportunities rather than be overwhelmed by change.
It's not about the change, but how quickly you can get your team to first accept the change, and then drive forward to realize the intended benefits that will determine how effective you are as a manager.
Having contributed as a transformational coach and change agent for the past six years, here are three of my top tips for managing effective change in the workplace:
Tip # 1: Communicate early, communicate positively, communicate frequently
One of the things people resent most about change is the “nasty surprise”. As soon as you hear about an impending change, be proactive about gathering your facts about it, understand the compelling reasons for the change, assess the positives and get your team together for a communications session before the rumor mill starts.
Remember that what your team focuses on tend to expand. People with a pessimistic tendency will tend to exaggerate negatives in the absence of fact. This not only distracts the team from important duties but causes unnecessary stress.
Timely communication is important to nip the rumor mill in the bud. During such times, it is useful to keep Sir Winston Churchill's quote in mind:
“When the eagles are silent, the parrots are chattering” .
Before communicating to your team, step into their shoes and imagine what their concerns could be about the change. Your objective from every communication is to leave your staff with a sense of confidence, certainty and optimism about the change. If you leave your team feeling empowered, you will stand a far better chance of the change realizing its intended benefits. Be prepared to confidently, empathetically and positively respond to the questions they might have like:
- “How will this affect my role?”
- “What are the benefits to me of the change?”
- “Why are we doing this?”
- “Where to from here?”
- “How will this affect what I'm doing now?”
- “What support / assistance / resources are or will be available?”
- “Who can I talk to about any concerns?”
When communicating change, face-to-face works best. Your team will look to you for certainty and confidence and complete congruence in words, reflected by positive, open and confident body language that reveals your inner convictions about the change and sets your team at ease. Another important benefit of meeting face-to-face with your team is that it gives you an opportunity to gauge the degree of support and resistance that's present and then plan future communications sessions to build on what you've done.
Be open and honest about the change. If you do not have all the facts, let them know that this is the case and that reinforce your commitment to keep them informed.
Be sure to follow-up with your commitment to keep them informed. This strengthens trust that their management are empathetic and that they are valued.
Tip # 2: Strengthen Commitment through Involvement
In communicating change, a good principle to keep in mind is highlighted by this quote by Benjamin Franklin:
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.” Involve me and I learn. “
Wherever possible “ask” rather than “tell”. Use leading questions that will help staff draw the same conclusions as management about decisions related to change. For instance, instead of saying “this is what we're doing”, use “this is the situation / trend. Instead of “here's why we're doing this”, use “imagine if the situation remains unchanged two years from now, what might the consequences be?” The more your team feels like they've been consulted and involved about the change, the greater the level of commitment and buy-in there will be to the implementation plan.
Tip # 3: Capture hearts, then minds
A common mistake managers make when communicating change is to focus on presenting the logical reasons for the change. Charts, statistics and facts appeal to “minds” but often fall short when it comes to moving “hearts”. Bear in mind that people make changes for emotional, not logical reasons. What you want to do is to create a sense of urgency, desire and excitement about the change. Apathy, fear and negativity will only result in predictable patterns of behavior that will not lead to the desired positive outcomes.
Instead, use stories, videos and dynamic language that engage both the hearts and minds of your teams. People generally are not moved by the need to “improve revenue”, “arrest declining market share”, “increase productivity” or “grow wallet share”. Instead, they are motivated to “improve job security”, “advance their career”, “experience greater work satisfaction”, “enhance work-life balance” and “make a difference to the lives of their clients, peers and family”.
Do not get me wrong. The charts, statistics and facts are important and you will want to provide them because while people make decisions based on emotion, they rationalize their decisions on logic. So, while what really makes a person, say, purchase a car is the perceived “exhilaration”, “freedom”, “convenience” and “magic moments” it offers them, they will often tell their friends and family that they did this because of “fuel economy”, “great value for money” and its ability to get from “0 to 100 mph in 5 seconds”.
In summary, to manage workplace change effectively communicate early, positively and often in order to empower your team with a sense of certainty. Get their commitment and buy-in by incorporating them as much as possible in the decision-making. And to create a sense of urgency and passion about the change, find creative ways to communicate in a manner which first captures hearts, then minds.