Helping Your Team Embrace BIG Change

 In Books and Resources, Career Change, Leadership, Stress

Why do people seemingly “lose their minds” when it comes to big change? If you have ever lead a team through a big change like a merger or acquisition, a leadership upheaval, or even a software change, you might have noticed that many become a bit unhinged by it. Wouldn’t it be great if people just accepted the inevitability of change and even expected it? Embraced it?

Three Essentials for Rolling-out Big Change:

1. Be extremely deliberate about how to package the change: Every team leader in America can take a lesson from our politicians on how NOT to package change. The worst possible way to roll-out change is to try and make something that is essentially difficult, hard, or bad look like something that is easy or “good for you.”  Even if the change is 100% necessary and you do a great job of justifying the change to your team, if you package it by misrepresenting what is really going on, people will see through it and will resist you in ways that you never imagined. Give your people more credit than that.

Inconsistencies, cover-ups, candy-coating, or omitting key information will hurt successful change, not help it. The impulse in organizations is to protect people from the ugly truth of change, but this denies the team the opportunity to be resourceful and actually embrace the change. Give some serious thought to packaging your information and err on the side of telling them too much (obviously without breaking the law or breaching ethical responsibility) instead of too little.

2. Know what you are up against: During the stress of initiating change, it can be easy to lump everyone into one category. But if you look closer, you will see that there are a few different ways people deal with change.

The Panickers: Some people are resistant to all change and will generally be the first to panic. Often this type of person has many good qualities like a passion for structure, accuracy, follow-through, and their downside is a resistance to change. They cannot help it. Ideally, you can clue in these people first to give them time to accept the change. But if not, try to give them less access to the rest of the team for awhile so they don’t “recruit” more Panickers.

The Passive Resisters: This is the most difficult type of person to deal with during change because they agree and accept change on the surface while actually resisting the change in subtle ways. Passive Resisters may quietly sabotage the progress made on change in small ways that can have a big impact, like having a good excuse for missing key meetings, claiming to not understand some key aspect of the change, subtly alerting customers to the change, or forgetting to take key steps in the process. It’s very important that organizations don’t tolerate this passive form of resistance. Once the intention behind the behavior is exposed, it has much less power to derail your change.

The “Union” Leaders: Anyone on your team could suddenly take on the role of defending the workers and organize resistance to your change. While most companies are threatened by this individual (and they can be irritating), it’s best to give the Union Leader in your organization a chance to impact your leadership and, if possible, to have some of the concerns addressed on behalf of the team.

The silent majority: Whether you are dealing with your customers, your team, or your constituents, the vocal types tend to get all of the attention during change and can make you feel as if everyone is resisting the change. But if you look closer it is more likely that the true resistance comes from a vocal minority and the statistical majority of your people will come along and do their best to comply with your requests. Make sure the silent minority are getting your positive attention and are acknowledged for their acceptance of the change.

3. Check your own resistance to change: Many leaders rant about how much resistance they are getting to change when, ironically, they do a poor job of launching change because they have their own issues with it. No judgment here; anyone that has had a career in the past thirty years has dealt with a roller coaster of change, uncertainty, and instability. Many leaders are experiencing change burn-out and this can impact the packaging, delivery, and ultimately, the way people hear the information about the change. If this is true about you don’t worry too much—the most important step is realizing it. Ultimately, it can be a good thing to be a leader who is a little bit burned out on change because it will make you more empathetic to what your team is going through and empathy is a key competency present in the most effective leaders.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein


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