Change is arguably one of the toughest challenges an organization must face. Whether it’s something minor, like a change in a process, or of the larger variety, like a merger or acquisition, change of any kind can be difficult.
There are several reasons why this is the case. First, change brings the unknown, and many people simply don’t like the thought of unpredictability. This, of course, leads right into a loss of control. Change takes away our control, and for many people, that’s a deep-seeded source of anxiety.
There is also a natural fear of loss that accompanies change. This doesn’t have to be a major loss like a job to matter; an employee may fear something as seemingly insignificant as a process to which he has personal connection. Then, finally, there is the common fear of failure. An employee who is doing well currently may have a very real fear of failing should the situation and expectations change.
Change is often inevitable, especially in business. As a leader, the key is to understand this and to take an approach that will help ensure greatest success for all involved. Following are the five components that comprise my approach for being an exemplary leader through change.
- Be prepared. H.P. Lovecraft once said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” As a leader, you must expect resistance to change and be prepared to deal with it once it comes. Sit down with senior managers and walk through the possibilities, naming potential challenges that could arise and developing strategies to address them.
- Be an example. There’s nothing more powerful or convincing than senior managers who do what they preach. It will be a lot easier to get people on board with change when management has set the example of accepting it and making the first move to do so.
- Be honest & transparent. I’m sure you’ve heard this, but in the absence of information, people will create their own. And, as you know, people like to talk. You can head-off the spread of poor information and fear in general simply by being as honest and up-front with your people as possible. You won’t likely be able to tell them absolutely everything in all times of change, but being as open, honest, and forthcoming as possible from the beginning will win more trust and loyalty in the long-run.
- Be sensitive. Change is scary. It’s important to ensure that words and actions are always tempered with this truth in mind.
- Be available. Communication is crucial, as already noted. And, sometimes just knowing a trusted source has an open door policy to answer questions about the change does a world of good in allaying fears. Whether this is your door, doors belonging to other senior managers, or a combination thereof, communicating this to employees and then following through is key.
In the end, what wins is respect, sensitivity, and the approach of ‘doing unto others.’ Most change happens to people who not only didn’t ask for it, but don’t have a choice about it either. It’s always best to approach these situations with that consideration in mind.