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10 Things Leaders Need To Know To Navigate Organizational Change

Photo by Gary Usserey

English author Arnold Bennett said, “Any change, even change for the better, is always accompanied by discomfort.” Change is hard because it forces us out of our comfort zone and challenges us in ways that we are not used to. It is for this reason that people struggle with change, which can affect an organization’s ability to grow, refocus and even stay in business.

There can be a misperception that organizations evolve, but that is not the case. Instead, organizational cÅhange comes from the people in the organization. Change in an organization comes for the experiences that people have and how people handle the change.

Since change comes for people there is also the need to recognize that all changes have the potential for creating a sense of loss or opportunity. Whether it is a new member of a team, a company merger, or downsizing, our reactions to the change is a direct result of our emotions. As leaders, we need to play a role in helping to manage emotions in an effective manner that can help people move forward.

The following are ways that leaders can help staff to navigate the change process:

1. Allow time to accept.

The nature of leadership allows us the ability to be in the know when change is coming, this allows us more time to prepare and accept the impending change. Often the frontline staff are the last to know and there is an expectation that they should just accept it in that moment. In most cases, navigating change is like grieving. People involved in the change process are going to run the gambit of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and hopefully get to the feeling of acceptance. All employees need to have the ability to navigate the grieving process.

2. Accept that people will resist.

Anger and bargaining are two significant parts of the grieving process and there may be the perception that this is resistance. The anger and bargaining that someone is presenting may not be coming from a place of malice but a place of grieving. Listening to the resistance can bring about new ideas and new perceptions.

3. Understand their emotions

As people move through the change process, recognize that there are going to be a variety of feelings and emotions that are going to rise to the surface. These emotions are going to present potential obstacles if we as leaders do not take the opportunity to understand how people are feeling.

4. Get people to talk

Open active lines of communication that flow from supervisors to frontline workers and vice versa. Being open and transparent about what is happening can demonstrate that you truly care for the well being of your staff by understanding what they are going through, their concerns, and doing what you can to help. When organizations do not effectively communicate change, rumors and innuendos can start to challenge the change and slow the process.

5. Establish short term goals

One of the primary goals of navigating change is to get leaders and staff to buy into the change. One of the simplest ways to accomplish this is to create small goals. The creation of small and easily attainable goals can create wins and successes for the people and the organization. These wins can boost the morale of the participants and create a clearer vision of what the change can produce for the individuals and the organization.

6. Remind people of the goals

Change is going to bring about distractions and misinformation, because people will be trying to maintain a sense of control. Often, people will revert to old ways or struggle to adapt to a new approach. As the leader facilitating this change there is a need to make sure we keep people focused on both the long and especially the short-term goals. We need to present a clear image of the big picture so people do not focus on their individual short-term goal.

7. Meet frequently

Changing situations is not the time to limit interactions, it is a time to spend more time meeting with your staff both formally and informally. Formal meetings are the time to establish and remind people of the short-term goals. It is your opportunity to address issues in front of the entire group or to set aside time for one on one dialogue. Recognize there is value in conducting meetings with purpose as opposed to just having meetings for meeting sake. Keep the formal meeting focused on the organization. Informal meetings are great opportunities for you to drop in on an employee and see how they are doing emotionally. These informal meetings allow you the opportunity to have trust building conversations which will aid in creating buy in for the changes happening in the organization.

8. Facilitate transparent communication

One of our biggest goals in facilitating this change is to make sure that people know that they can come to you with questions. One of the greatest struggles with change is that it can lead to rumors and innuendos which can debilitate the culture of an organization. If staff do not feel like they are in the know, they will fill in the blanks with their own ideas and these tend to lean more to the negative than the positive. Your staff needs to know that they can come to you to seek accurate information at any time.

9. Connect the new reality to the mission and the purpose of the organization

New leadership brings a new reality, and that new reality will create uncertainty. In the beginning of the change, make sure people understand the mission and the purpose of the organization, especially if there have been changes. Make sure that the staff understands the potential changes and how these changes could affect them moving forward. Finally, as decisions are being made, it is important that the staff see the connection between the changes and the mission and purpose. If the employees do not see this connection it will create feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity that will erode the trust they have in leadership.

10. Celebrate and congratulate people on successes A significant part of navigating the tumultuous time of change is to help staff buy into the change. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to acknowledge and celebrate successes. One of the reasons for creating the opportunities for small wins is to make the opportunity for wins easier. If people find success it can become much easier.

By congratulating people on a success, it also demonstrates that as the organizational leader you are valuing the employee and the work that they do. Every person is looking for the opportunity to feel valued and by creating that sense of value through organizational and personal success, you are creating a sense of belonging. Which will help to empower the staff member to understand and move through the change.

All change, whether it is a change in ownership, a change in management, or a change in a colleague can bring about feelings of uncertainty, fear and create conflict. People are going to navigate this change at different rates, with different emotions and in different manners. That is okay. As leaders, we need to find ways to help people navigate this change in a manner that will benefit the organization as well as the staff. It will be challenging, but by successfully navigating this storm brought about by change, your organization can come out stronger in the end.

Things Leaders Need To Know
Robert Jones, EAP Trainer, The Village Family Service Center

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Written by Robert Jones

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