Lead the Way to Rapid Change without Losing People on the Journey

Leading people through difficult changes can be likened to taking a dangerous journey. Why? Because it can involve asking others to give up an existing belief or behaviour they rely on for safety and support. Expecting people to do this quickly can be risky for a manager. If you’re not careful, negative feelings and resistant behaviours will begin to spread – even if management feels confident that the outcome will be positive for all concerned. So how do you maintain the balance as a leader, driving change without losing people on the way?

Most people do not enjoy or relish change, and need due time to adjust. As a manager or leader, you may be tempted to push forward, persuade – even politically manipulate - others to embrace a change faster than they would like. The problem is that, if people feel forced, they will often push back and conflict will emerge. And this could be accompanied by childish, selfish and irrational behaviour. Worse still - you as the leader or ‘change agent’ can find yourself as the target -eventually even fighting for your survival.

To stand a decent chance of - not just survival, but maintaining your influence and respect as a change leader, it is key that everything you do ensures that relationships are preserved.

To do a good job of chartering the way through the change – with its tough issues and challenging demands - there are a number of factors worth paying attention to:

1. Address feelings of ambiguity
It is only human to freeze when we are faced with too much stress, too many options, and not enough information. These are all common traits in a fast-changing environment.

What’s more – productivity will often go down. The manager’s temptation may then be to become more focused on managing performance or accelerate the execution of new processes being changed. As a result, there is little time to focus on feelings. And if people are feeling unsure, confused or fearful – they will quickly feel you are not concerned with their human needs.

So it is critical to:

  • make time for listening to others
  • let them know you care
  • actively take account of their views

2. Meet the needs of different personality types
It is well known that at times of stress we often default to our ‘core’ character traits. This can mean that your well-rounded colleagues begin to behave differently to what you are used to – and become difficult to manage as a result.

It is useful at times like these to remember what their character type requires in order to gain their acceptance and co-operation. Relationship-oriented people will want to feel heard and valued, and to know that other colleagues are being looked after. Task-oriented colleagues may feel frustrated that their productivity is being slowed down, and want extra support to stay productive. Data-oriented people will feel let down if their questions are not answered and timely information on changes is not provided (even if that information is “there is no new information”.)

3. Establish boundaries for disagreement
It can definitely be helpful when individuals are allowed to express opposing or negative feelings about a change. The rise in energy levels means that most of the important challenges are noticed and dealt with.

On the other hand, by taking time to actively listen to the feelings of your colleagues they may think that they can carry on moaning and complaining as long as they like.

Clearly this could turn others off, so it is vital to set limits as to the expression of emotion (complaining, moaning, groaning, etc). One strategy could be to define specific times and different ways for people to do this, e.g. to send comments on a proposal by a set date, or attend a regular meeting where they will have an opportunity to vent their feelings.

Your role as a change leader can often look much like that of an arbitrator: on one hand you need people to participate in the process feeling heard. On the other hand you have to keep things on track. To do this, individual reactions must not escalate such that they distract or dissuade others from taking part. Finally, you must harness your own reactions: think before you act or react, and remember to always maintain the integrity of your relationships.

Daniel Stane, is a member of Winning Teams and is Director of The Acumen Company, a leadership development specialist based in London and Prague, with a focus on sustainable behaviour improvement in the areas of emotional intelligence, coaching, change and diversity.

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