Everyone has heard the old saying, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." That quote is most often attributed to Benjamin Franklin circa 1789. A lot has changed since then. In fact, given the rapidly evolving world we live in today, I would argue that change itself could be added to the list of certainties. Technology has drastically altered the way we do business over the last few decades; companies are constantly exploring ways to meet consumer needs faster, cheaper, and better. As organizations change with the times, leaders should follow these basic tips to help keep their teams on track.
As a leader, you set the tone for the rest of your team. Help them embrace change by framing it positively. Change only occurs if at least one person thinks it's a good idea. If the benefits aren't immediately clear, take the time to engage with the initiator to understand the rationale. Arm yourself with all of the information you can gather that will help sell the idea to your workers. Remember, your team's reputation is, in part, a reflection of your ability to lead. A team who openly resists change might cause others to question your ability to engage and motivate your team. Framing the situation in a positive light will help alleviate initial concerns, create buy-in among team members, and maintain your good standing with the rest of the organization.
While exuding positivity is certainly crucial, don't overdo it. Remember that change is difficult for many people. It often causes feelings of stress and anxiety. Be careful not to minimize those feelings, as team members who feel that way may be the ones who need the most support. If they don't get the support they need, they might not ever come to accept the change. In addition, try not to oversell the benefits you expect to see. Guaranteeing big returns is a quick and easy way to get others on board, but sometimes there are unintended or unexpected results. It's a good idea to explain the benefits you hope to garner from a change, but be realistic in your message given that not all changes will yield the desired results.
A fear of change is often tied to a fear of the unknown. The more you communicate, the less intimidating the situation will be. Keep your team up to date on expected timelines so they don't have to hypothesize when the change will occur. If it's something that will take place over the course of several weeks or months, it's not enough to communicate just at the onset of the project. Keep your team updated as milestones are met, delayed, or adjusted. Remember that different people have different preferences when it comes to communication, so be sure to vary your message according to your team members' needs. One person might be happy with a high-level overview of what's to come (e.g., "Your benefits package is changing; it's going to be cheaper and give you better coverage!"), while others may prefer to review detailed information in writing when possible. Think about your audience when you have to announce an upcoming change and take care to choose the correct medium for making that announcement.
If disseminating information is the first step in communicating change effectively, encouraging an open-door policy is the next step. People are going to have questions; give them a forum in which to ask them. Again, keep personal preferences in mind. Some people might feel comfortable asking questions in front of a large group of peers, while others may prefer email or one-on-one conversations. If the change is sensitive in nature or if it's going to impact different team members in different ways, providing a channel for them to anonymously ask questions or express concerns might be helpful. Simply asking for questions isn't enough though – be sure to take the time to formulate a thorough response. If a situation arises where you can't answer someone's question, either because you don't know yet or due to a "right to know" situation, be honest with the person about why you can't share the information requested. As soon as it's okay to share that information more broadly, make sure your team is brought up to speed.
Change often brings opportunity. Don't sit by idly and let change happen around you. Be an active change agent. Learn all you can about why the change is being considered or initiate it yourself if you see the need. Be vocal during the decision-making process. Do your research and be prepared to negotiate for the benefit of your team. Most importantly, let your team know that you've got their best interests in mind. Share as much as you can about what you proposed and why. If it feels like a change isn't going to behoove your team members, make sure they understand the big picture and assure them that you will continue to lobby for what they need during future negotiations. Accepting a difficult change will be easier for your team if they understand the role you played in the decision-making process and if they feel like you did everything in your power to support them.
While change is generally a good thing and it's required to keep businesses from growing stagnant, it can result in negative employee reactions if not handled correctly. The next time you see an opportunity for a change that may directly impact your team members, try these suggestions to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.