How to Support your Team through Change

How do you react when you hear the word change?

Optimism? Fear? Anger? Excitement? Nervousness? Overwhelm? Relief? Dread? Concern?

Whether our responses are seen as positive or negative depends on the actions that an organisation and its leaders take and the very personal way that we as individuals view a change. (E.g. a threat that will take something away or as an opportunity that will bring something better)

Now you may be thinking “Why should we as leaders be concerned with how people respond to change? It’s part of their job. We don’t have time to molly coddle people!”

Well, purely in business terms you should care about shortening the inevitable drop in productivity that comes with major changes and you do this by learning about the human response to change and how leaders can help people move through it and become fully productive more quickly. The other reason is that although people have a free choice in responding negatively or positively to change, if they stay in the negative frame of mind it is likely to have consequences for health, well-being and morale, all of which impacts business performance.

So what is the first, and in my view the most important, step in supporting a healthy and effective response to change?

Creating a felt need

This is what John Kotter refers to as creating a “burning platform for change.” Leaders tend not to spend enough time making the case for why a change is needed. If people affected by the coming change don’t know the reasons behind it they will be less likely to move out of their comfort zone and will respond either by turning a blind eye, telling themselves “this too will pass” or may blame management for bringing in yet another “unnecessary” change and actively resist it.

When leaders are clear about the internal and external drivers for the change, and the consequences of not changing and amplify these drivers, it helps to create the felt need for change.

Whilst communicating the drivers for change, over and over in different formats, it’s also vital to involve people. Hear their responses, ask for their ideas and suggestions, listen to their perceived losses and explore how these can be addressed.

Much of our individual response to change is a function of how much control or influence we feel we have. Imagine sitting next to the driver of a car, holding the map, making collaborative decisions about the journey, compared with being locked in the boot, gagged and bound. Our level of control or influence over the change plays an important part in how we view it.

I would love to hear your experiences of organisational change.

  • What worked well for you?
  • What did you learn?

4 Responses to How to Support your Team through Change

  • Nicely articulated, Julie! Kotter’s “burning platform” is indeed one of the necessities to build acceptance amongst employees for an impending change. Clarity in goals and objectives, as well as the “What’s in it for me,” the WIIFM, is critical. Leaders need to carefully examine the root causes of apprehension and resistance in followers. If the true root cause can be identified, it often points directly to that aspect of the change with which the follower is struggling. For example, if the root emotion is confusion, it is often the case that the vision for the future is not as clear at the leader may think. Or if the emotion is fear, focusing more attention on how the employee will both fit into the “new world,” and providing reassurance that appropriate training and development will be provide may do the trip.

  • Change makes people apprehensive because they believe they are going to told step by step how they are going to change, and in some cases rightly so. Think of it this way. If you called a meeting that required people to travel from all over the country to get there, everyone would start from a different place, although the goal was for them to all arrive at the same place at the same time. If everyone had to follow the same directions to the meeting, attendance would be low, attendees would be frustrated or not show up at all, and your meeting would be a failure. Yet leaders approach change that way to often. Change, from my (the leaders) perspective, with one set of directions, and if you fail; “Well, you really didn’t want to change did you?” Change works when the goal or objective is clear, and people are given enough leeway to make it possible for them.

    • Thanks for your response Bruce. I agree. Its the destination that needs to be clear as well as the reason for the journey and the more ownership individuals have for how they get there, the better.

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