Change – There Is No Magic Answer
Change is obviously not a new concept for businesses, but perhaps not surprisingly it is definitely moving up the agenda for most, given the need for all organisations to adapt and remain current in the tough economic climate, not to mention the pace of technology these days. It’s fair to say change is becoming the norm! Because of this, in truth, everyone appears to be searching for the ‘magic answer’, those additional leadership tools that will provide them with the answer to make the “change transition” as smooth and efficient as possible and with minimum impact on the bottom line. So what are they?
Before we answer that we want to tell you about an experience of a good friend of ours – Alex. At the time Alex had worked for his employer for over 12 years and for the most part has been extremely happy there. Then suddenly one day he was told his whole department were moving floors; so not only was he having to change his desk (from the one he’d sat at for 12 years), but also he was going to have to sit on a completely different floor. For Alex this was extremely upsetting and we recall conversations about having to leave all his friends behind, his concerns about not been able to complete his job to the same high standard on the new floor etc… He actually became quite stressed about it all and dreaded going into work on some mornings – all things completely out of character for Alex. On the face of it in the cold hard light of day and looking back on it now, even Alex admits these were completely irrational thoughts – he wasn’t leaving the country, it was just an additional two flights of stairs!
Alex was suffering from, what many people in organisations experiencing change have – a complete lack of understanding as to why it was happening. No one had bothered to have the conversation about why the move was happening and what the benefits were – it was simply a ‘three line whip’.
Ok, ok we hear you ask so what’s the magic answer or those additional set of tools leaders and managers need to help their people through change? What can they do to prevent the usual black lash and negativity that follows a change announcement?
Without wishing to sound flippant- the only thing they can do is be a really great leader! For us there are no additional tools needed, because essentially it’s the same set of leadership and management tools whether you’re leading and managing performance or leading and managing people through change. You just need to use the fundamental leadership tools really well and more frequently in times of change.
We talk about giving people clarity and certainty with regard to how they are performing, so they know where they stand; it’s just about giving them the same level of clarity and certainty about why change is happening and what it means for them.
If only Alex’s line manager, had taken the time and effort to explain to him and his colleagues the sound business reasons for the change, they would have had such a different experience.
Another example – a leaders’ key role is to provide their people with appropriate levels of direction and support to develop them and enable them to perform to the best of their ability; so in times of change it’s about providing the same appropriate levels of direction and support to allow individuals to express their concerns re the change, listen and answer questions they may have.
Whatever the leadership tool is, be it feedback, coaching, people focused 1:1’s – they are all really relevant in times of change, and when used often and to good effect will ensure your people will be able to accept any change more quickly.
As for Alex – funnily enough the new floor didn’t look that different from the old floor and the people there were actually really nice. After a few days of acclimatising he could see that where he was now sitting actually made his job a bit easier, as the people he needed to liaise with were close by (the original reason for the change that his boss neglected to communicate!). It was also much more organised, which was definitely how Alex liked to work. It wasn’t long before he LOVED his new desk and the floor in general.
But how badly scarred was he from the experience and how much more difficult was it for both him and the organisation than it actually needed to be, simply because he didn’t receive the leadership he needed….
There is no ‘magic answer’ to leading people through change and more to the point you don’t need one! As a leader you don’t need a new set of skills to manage people through change, you just need to know how to use the ones you already have more effectively!
Til next time
Martin and Elizabeth