Managing Change

These have been interesting times. I don’t believe that I have ever been with an organization that has seen so much change so quickly. Although it seems that everyone has an opinion on recent events, I am not choosing sides with this column. Rather, I am more interested in the effects these changes have on staff and how any organization experiencing rapid and disruptive change can manage it.

I believe it is the change process as much as the change itself that can become so overwhelming for staff. Frustration, short tempers, and a sense of isolation are all normal reactions to rapid organizational change. Morale can sink to its lowest when people don’t believe they know what is going on. It sinks even further if employees think they have no say or voice in the process.

A good leader understands all of this. A great leader not only understands it, but also understands their role in managing change. One of the biggest tools in the belt for managing change is open and transparent communication. With significant change and the uncertainty that goes with it, leadership cannot provide enough communication.

By staying in touch with employees and providing venues and opportunity for two-way communication, you help ease the uncertainty and create a sense of serenity that might have not existed. Even if the main message that you deliver is that at this time, not much or not much new is known, you still keep your employees in the conversation. Even more important, you derail any rumors or speculations that can become rampant during times of change.

Additionally, make sure that you have provided various avenues for your staff to participate in the conversation. Whether it’s via email, surveys, town hall-style meetings or social network, allowing your employees the opportunity to voice concerns and ask questions creates a safer environment to accept the change. One-way communication does little to adapt your staff to any new changes in your organization.

As you communicate with staff, do not make any assumptions on how you believe they will react. Simply provide enough information, time and space to allow them to react. Some may respond immediately with questions or challenges. Others will need time to process. However they react, be prepared that different people will need different responses and your job will be to help them get to where the organization is going.

Also understand that most of us need to hear a message several times before it is fully processed. As you communicate change, you may have to repeat your vision and your reasons for change several times, at least three or more. Vary your method of delivery as well. Some people are readers, some are talkers. Providing the message in a way that it is best understood will help it be processed.

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