Dealing with Change: The Leader’s Role
Change: The Current Reality
The pace of change in today’s marketplace is seemingly unsurpassed in human history. Malls go extinct as online portals like Amazon provide convenient, broader access and significant time savings. Skype, GoToMeeting and Zoom are replacing traditional teleconferencing (think Polycom; the one-time gold standard for conference calls). Even smart devices are changing how we connect and communicate. How many of us still have landlines in our residences? With drone delivery systems on the rise, traditional truck and driver delivery may soon be a thing of the past.
The disruption of industries is happening globally. We all know it. We all see it. And, it is likely that every one of our industries is under pressure of change to some degree.
Change: What You Should Not Do
Recently, I was participating in one of our company-wide tele-conferences. During this weekly event, we connect through video-conference, share and often communicate and plan for change. I had asked one of our Directors to lead the meeting and discuss upcoming changes related to one of our services. Pre-reading, pre-recorded webinars and a host of information had been shared with everyone in the company in the several weeks leading up to this important topic; the primary focus for this call. This is where I screwed up.
As the conversation unfolded, questions began to arise. The types of questions posed appeared to me to reflect a lack of preparedness by the team and, from my point of view, were inconsequential to preparing for change. My gut knotted up and I reacted. Rather than listening and allowing the questions to flow or allowing the Director to lead the meeting, I began shutting people down by redirecting them in way that suggested they should have already known the answers to their questions. Underneath it all, I was operating from “my point of view,” demonstrating poor self-awareness and poor leadership.
Fortunately, one of my business partners had the heart and courage to give me feedback. And, without going into details, I acted to rectify the impact of my behavior. The feedback also spawned sincere reflection about what happened. Why had I reacted that way? In a follow up discussion, the Director and I worked to identify the sources of the frustration and, more importantly, identify our responsibilities to address our teams’ needs in relation to change.
Change: What You Should Do
There are hosts of change management models out there. While they provide nice frameworks for the steps, what they often miss (as I demonstrated above), is the awareness of where people are in their thoughts and feelings and more importantly, how to identify where they are.
As we reflected and thought about the individual and collective responses, we identified five personal transition points that people often experience in dealing with change. We also felt it was important to consider the context of both ambition and ability. For most of us who have achieved leadership positions, we tend to exhibit some natural or learned capability to move swiftly from item one to item five, or in some cases we may jump right to number five. But honestly, we cannot assume that leap for anyone. There is a component that is required to work through the stages and that involves the ambition to do so. When dealing with change, consider the following personal transitions:
The ambition and willingness to…
- Embrace the idea and possibility of change
- Hear what is really being said
- Separate the future ideas from the “actionable-now”
- Demonstrate the courage to deal with the fear
- Translate new concepts into actionable “things”
Embrace the idea and possibility of change
When confronted with change, attitude is all-important. We can resist it or embrace it. We can feel like victims or we can run it down. It is a personal choice. However, knowing is not enough. As leaders we need to acknowledge and help each person and give a voice to understanding the nature and impetus for the change. Those were many of the question types we got on our call and where I failed to recognize the need. Reflection revealed a sincere and curious intent among the team to understand what was about to happen, so they could join the conquest. Simply allow the conversation to unfold and acknowledge each person’s need to match up to the change ahead.
Hear what is really being said
During our conversation, several participants inferred that these changes were likely to hurt our clients. The implication was that perhaps we were moving forward with change having not considered the impact on our clients. Technically, in no part of the conversation had we stated that we intended to hurt our clients, nor had we stated that we were going to neglect our clients amid the changes. So, what happened? There was a legitimate reaction to the lack of acknowledgment of our clients and the care that would be taken with evaluation of each change. We also failed to call out that some of the changes were mere ideas or possibilities, which I will deal with in the next section. While we may construe there is an onus on the team to listen intently, there is a greater responsibility among the leaders to also listen intently to the team and non-defensively respond to what may have been omitted or bypassed in the conversation.
Separate future ideas from the “actionable-now”
As noted above, part of the conversation was about “potential” changes and components of things that we were going to evaluate. This part of the conversation contained forward-looking ideas in which I was challenging the team about how we thought about the value of our work. What I missed was the need and opportunity to clarify and separate future possibilities and evaluative statements from the current reality of known changes in the “actionable now.” In other words, we missed the opportunity to help them see that some changes were imminent and others awaited proper evaluation. Clarity on this point will help the team begin to parse out what they need to deal with and put to bed the items that are not yet reality.
Demonstrate the courage to deal with the fear
Provided the voices have been heard, omissions and inferences considered and the “actionable-now” identified, the leader can help the team start to zero in and address any concerns or questions about the “now” changes. We did not even get to this point in our conversation. Addressed properly, this is the area is where the team can share, counsel one another, become more grounded on what is possible and create a new reality by working back from thought starters like, “what’s the worst that could happen?” The key here is the leader must create an encouraging environment and facilitate a conversation that centers the team and sets the tone for moving forward. The courage to address fears will come out of the collective acceptance of the new reality and elimination of the false fears that can erupt out of worrying about things that have not occurred or probably won’t occur in the future.
Translate new concepts into actionable “things”
At this point the team begins to reconcile with the idea of change. The worry recedes as the more irrational fears or “might-happens” have been eliminated. The team can now center what needs to happen and what they can control. Now you can start to deal with how the team can prepare for change; what role will each person play and what specific actions each person can identify in relation to the role. Once you identify actions and attach dates, the entire team can let out a collective sigh of relief. Now they are not only reconciled to the change but are, in fact, embracing it and running it down.
The opportunity to remain mindful and aware of where your team is will define the difference in driving change. You can host town hall meetings, conduct surveys, throw pizza parties and hand out swag, but those steps will be superficial if you neglect to tune into their emotional attachments and really hear their concerns. The above steps can help you bring your team along and ensure stronger outcomes.