Change can bring opportunity. But it can also bring uncertainty. No matter what form change takes – growing larger as an organisation, introducing new products or services, restructuring jobs, a merger or acquisition – it means leaving the known for the unknown. And facing the unknown can be hard. But it’s possible to develop skills for managing change. Here are the useful strategies for staying confident and in control if you’re facing difficult change right now, and to prepare you for the stresses of future change too.
Reactions to change
Everyone in an organisation experiences the anxiety that comes from the uncertainty of change. And probably some of the excitement too, about the opportunities change offers. Your job as manager is to help the team through the rough spots as things change and keep them motivated and working towards the changes that need to be made. In order to do that well, you’ll need to acknowledge how the change is affecting you.
Stress and anxiety are infectious so you’ll need to work out your own way of internalising any of your own negative emotions - spreading them to your team simply won’t help the climate at work. So:
o try to maintain routines at work and home
o avoid spending time with consistently negative people
o remember that work isn’t your entire life
o develop a relaxation method
o maintain friendships outside work
o get plenty of sleep
o eat well, take care of yourself and exercise.
You’re there to offer leadership and hope, to remind your people of the ultimate goals of the change and the bigger picture, and to point out opportunities that they may not see.
Make an effort to give extra encouragement. Thank people promptly for work well done. Let people know you understand they’re under extra pressure and that you notice and appreciate their efforts. Nobody can get too much appreciation, and people are especially needy during times of change.
Communicating during change in the company
As a manager you can have a big effect on how well and how easily your people adapt to change and embrace it. Open and honest communication is essential to all successful change.
- It’s always better for employees to hear the news about change from you rather than through the grapevine. Hold regular meetings to talk about company events, even if there is no specific information to convey. Face-to-face dialogue is more effective than voicemail or email messages.
- Don’t wait to deliver important information. Share what you know about forthcoming changes as early as possible. When you have only partial information, share what you do know and admit that you don’t have all the answers. We tend to withhold information until we have the complete picture – yet the people around us may start to fill in the gaps from their own worried imaginations when we don’t keep them informed. You don’t need to know everything before you share the news you do have.
- Allow and encourage employees to openly express their frustrations and disappointments. Until people talk about the change and how they feel, they can’t move on.
- Encourage employees to come to you with their questions and concerns. And express a sincere interest in how the employee is feeling and coping.
- Don’t make promises you aren’t sure you can keep. For example, avoid promising that no one will lose their job unless you know for certain that this is true. One broken promise – even a small one – can seriously damage trust and credibility.
If your company is growing, there's more advice here about how to take your people along with you.