Tired of change? Probably.
Able to stop change? Not likely.
More than 75% of business leaders expect to make major changes in the next two years, a Gartner study found. And that’s after the average company went through five major changes in the past three years!
That wouldn’t seem so awful … if it wasn’t for the fact that just 40% of employees feel capable of adapting to organizational change.
This can lead employees to Change Saturation – a reaction to change overload when they can’t function right, starting with a loss of focus and frustration outbursts.
That’s when they need you.
“People gravitate to the person who seems to have it together,” says Lolly Daskal, author of The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness, in her podcast In The Hour. “That’s why it starts with self leadership. Even if you’re feeling crazy. Even if you’re feeling scared. Even if you’re feeling things are out of control, tap into the one thing you can control.
“People will be more influenced by the power of your example than by the example of your power,” Daskal says.
Front-line managers and HR professionals are often the agents of change – and have to guide employees through it. So you likely need the power of example and practical tools to carry (often reluctant) employees through changes.
Here are five ways to help employees handle and thrive in change:
1. Show some empathy
Showing empathy should be the first step when employees are presented with change. But it could be the most difficult, Daskal admits.
What makes it so difficult? You, as a leader, might not be keen on changes either. Or, you know it’s important to just charge ahead – and you expect your employees should do that, too, with no backlash.
Resist the urge. Listen to their concerns, recognize their difficulties and explain the ways you and the organization are there to support them throughout the transition so they thrive in change.
2. Communicate clearly
We often encourage amped-up communication through difficult times. When it comes to change, you don’t necessarily need to over-communicate, but you need to communicate with full clarity.
Employees who are expected to make changes happen, and who are affected by changes, need to know all the details, plus the expectations for outcomes. When they know what’s behind decisions to change and what’s ahead for everyone, they’re more likely to execute as expected.
But, if they don’t understand everything, they’ll fill in holes with gossip and false expectations.
When you communicate, make sure every message contains:
- where the change came from
- why the change is important
- what needs to be done (action or knowledge retention), and
- the expectations for next steps.
With that level of clarity, employees will feel better about change.
3. Regularly assess the state of change
Front-line managers sometimes make changes and other times implement changes from above. Regardless of where change comes from, it’s still in everyone’s best interest to assess them.
You want to check if changes are temporary (until the new norm is reached) or systemic (another change in a constant state of flux).
When changes – and the overload they cause – are temporary, work with employees to determine how you’ll outlast the challenging time.
When changes appear to be systemic, you’ll likely have a bigger project on your hands. Talk with colleagues, your boss and employees about aligning strategy, systems and new ways of working so you need changes less often.
4. Manage priorities
When you’ve assessed your change, be realistic about what can be accomplished in a certain amount of time. Set priorities.
Most importantly, set realistic priorities.
A good example of this comes from Apple Founder, the late Steve Jobs: He told his management team to cut their list of priorities to 10. Then when he met with them, he crossed off four through 10. “We can only do three,” he said, reminding them to manage the right priorities.
Another approach to managing priorities is the One-for-One Rule: For every new priority, drop another.
To manage change, and help employees thrive in change, you want to consciously limit priorities so everyone can stay focused.
5. Act and react
When most people hear there’s a need to change, they get overwhelmed and rush to do everything quickly, which can be a change-management mistake.
Instead, experiment with ways to make and manage the changes, say the authors of the Association for Talent Development’s Guide, Leading When There’s Too Much Change. Aim for incremental change to move toward the overall mission.
Most importantly, “Try new things and then dedicate time to assessing what you have learned. There will be things you wish to continue or spread more widely and other things that just don’t work for you,” the authors say.