The times are a-changin: every day, a new industry is disrupted by technology, fresh competition, or an evolving business model that changes the way business is done. While implementing those changes on the ground can be trying as is, managing people through change is arguably an even greater part of the challenge. When people get used to doing things a certain way, it’s never fun to be the one tasked with helping them adapt. But someone has to do it, and if you’re a business owner, manager, or administrator, that someone is going to be you. If you find yourself in this position, change management courses never go amiss, but if you don’t have the time or money, we can give you a few pointers.
If you’ve got a change on the horizon, it’s important to begin adapting early. First and foremost, be ready to clearly identify what is driving the need for change in your organisation. Understanding the “why” behind a big change is crucial: it’s going to help you not only ensure that you’re making the right moves and picking the correct solutions for the challenges you face but also help you explain the changes your business is going through to stakeholders at every level. Investors, employees, business partners, customers, and everyone in between are going to have questions, and you need to be prepared to answer them in a way that’s not only easy to understand but convincing to boot.
Your communication skills are going to be tested as much as anything. Patience will be in short supply, and if you’re the one leading the charge, you’re going to need more of it than anyone. As a leader, you need to be ready to be the rock for your team – after all, you are the one major constant in their daily life as so many other things around them are changing. You won’t always be able to prevent every crisis by being poised, but if you aren’t, you’ll be creating as many problems as you’re solving.
Serenity isn’t the only thing you’ll need to convey, though – you need to come up with a real plan to convince the people relying on you that you’re up to the task of supporting them and making this really happen. Before you face your audience, sit down and make a list of every high-level change that’s happening, and follow each up with a list of concrete ways it will impact your people. Consider how each individual might react to the proposed change, and what challenges they might face, and know exactly how you’re going to set their expectations appropriately and help them get across the finish line before.
It’s not all about damage control, though; you have to be ready to show how the proposed changes are going to affect stakeholders positively. After all, you’re not making changes just for the sake of making changes. You’re doing it because it’s right for the business, and that means it’s right for everyone who relies on the business, whether it be for a salary, a product, a client, or ROI. Helping them understand that fact is the best way to ensure their buy-in and, as a result, a smooth transition.
A good leader also knows where change begins and ends – if you’re a manager, and your part of the organisation isn’t dramatically affected, the right play might even be to minimise the impact of these changes and just keep everyone informed. If your team’s daily work isn’t impacted, putting too much emphasis on whatever is changing might just be a distraction.
Down to Business
If your working group is directly impacted by change, when the time comes, you need to be ready to walk them through it – not just with reassurance and elevator pitches, but with practical assistance. That means making sure people are prepared to operate in the new environment you’re creating, and that means you need to be prepared, too. This is where training comes in. If you need training, ask for it – your one-up might not thank you for needing help, but they sure won’t commend you for not getting it if you need it.
Once you’re confident that you can do what you’re asking your employees or reports to do, then you are likely the perfect person to train them. This is really the ideal scenario – if you, someone they’re already comfortable with, can be the one to help them learn, you’ll probably be able to reach them more effectively than someone from outside the company. Don’t let yourself feel too superior just because you’ve gone first, though; always remember that you’re all going through these changes together. Never be afraid of feedback, and don’t let yourself become a black swan if someone is picking things up more quickly than you are – in fact, you should be quick to recognize and praise them if they are and know exactly how to utilise them to help others.
If the change you’re leading involves tools or parts of your organisation that aren’t part of your daily work or is otherwise outside of your wheelhouse, it might be best to bring in outside help: a technical rep from the company whose products you’re adopting, an employee from your new partner business, or, if need be, a consultant with direct experience in this change is just a few examples of your potential assets in this situation. Never be too proud to ask for this help; it’s always tempting, as a leader, to feel responsible for everything, but a good leader knows and accepts their limitations.
Two Forward, One Back
Change is easier for some people than for others. It’s not uncommon for high performers to be fast learners, but it’s certainly not always the case; sometimes the people who add the most value are able to do so because they’re extremely well-adapted to a specific way of working. Sometimes, even if the way they do their job isn’t substantially altered, a change in an environment like a new office or new coworkers can really throw a wrench in the gears for more sensitive employees.
Hurdles like this aren’t the end of the world. Some people take longer to adjust than others. If you’re implementing new tools, remember that your reports probably rely on them more than you do and that major changes can create a lot of stress and uncertainty. Be prepared for mistakes. You need to be forgiving, but you also need a plan for how to address those mistakes. Have contingency plans and processes in place for managing these obstacles when they inevitably rear their ugly heads.
Sometimes people just don’t like change. It’s inevitable that some people will resist: sometimes openly, sometimes covertly. Look for the signs: is someone showing up late more often than usual? Has their productivity changed in ways that can’t be accounted for directly by the change? If so, are there external factors at play? Be ready to sit down and have hard conversations.
Change is never easy, and it’s even harder when you’re being subjected to it rather than initiating it. Locus of control is so important, and that’s why the early stages of change and getting buy-in are the most vital part of managing change. But you have to be ready for the nitty gritty, too. As a leader, you have to be ready to address every objection and fix every problem. Be sure that you’re giving yourself credit for trying to make things better, and never forget that you’re doing this for a reason – when it’s over, you’ll be able to look back and see how much you’ve learned…and update your resume!