“You get the journey and you get the stress. At the end, you’re a different person. But both elements are part of the deal.” –Seth Godin
Change can be surprising, scary, and uncertain. It is also a catalyst for new ideas and opportunities to be seized. It opens doorways to step into, even when what’s on the other side isn’t clear. It summons courage and builds strength, character, and lessons we can harness. In our personal lives, the workplace, and the world at large, change is constant. There’s not one form of media where this isn’t on display any moment of the day. No matter where you go or what you do, change will find you.
If you’re a leader who wants to create a culture where change is viewed as a healthy element for growth, the first step is to embrace change yourself. Acknowledge it, hold an accountable position, and take the first step forward. The most effective way to create accountability for yourself and others is to ask the question, given what we have in front of us now, what’s the next best step I can take to move forward in a positive way that embraces this change? By doing this, you set the stage to model a healthy approach to change and begin reframing the opportunity that is in front of you.
Change can be uncomfortable, and as leaders, we are not immune to this discomfort. It can disrupt our routines and leave us feeling uncertain and vulnerable. However, there is always a reason behind the changes that are before us, whether they are planned or not. Change brings the opportunity for new ideas to emerge and for new voices to be heard. Innovation and progress are great outcomes and are worth the bumps of discomfort along the way. Even if you inherently know this is true, how do you acknowledge it in a way where mentally and physically you are ready to step in to what lies ahead and be ready to bring others along with you?
Despite the benefits, research shows that changes in the workplace can cause high amounts of prolonged stress for employees. Here are some alarming statistics from research by the American Psychological Association:
• Nearly 30% of all the workers surveyed said they believe management has a hidden agenda for instituting change, with 31% saying they believe employers have different motives and agendas for enacting change from what they say publicly.
• 28% believe organizations try to cover up the real reasons for changes.
However, research from Accenture Strategy reveals that change does not cause organizational dysfunction—it merely exposes it. Their 2015 studies show 85% of groups with change programs that had gone off track had major underlying issues before implementing their initiative.
When it comes to change in the workplace, trust and transparency are paramount. Yet even in organizations that feel their culture exudes these values, change can be rattling. Why? Because change is disruptive and can break a pattern of predictability that people have become used to expecting. The unknown often creates a sentiment of how does this affect me? Leadership will need to address these issues head-on, and it’s important to have the skills necessary to help employees navigate these organizational shifts in the best way possible.
For starters, there is a bottom line when it comes to change: it’s important for leadership to have transparent conversations with employees, both organization-wide and one-on-one in order to help their teams with what they are experiencing, whether that change is at an organizational or personal level. These conversations need to take place before, during, and after the realized changes.
Here are some strategies that will help leaders build employee trust, reframe change as an opportunity to be harnessed, and create smooth transitions:
• Reset by acknowledging and re-grounding. If you are dealing with an anticipated change or a “suddenly” that has just been presented, it’s important to give context to the communication to ensure everyone is on the same page. Remind everyone what got us here (good and bad), where we are, and where we need to go. Even if the path forward isn’t clear, describing the next steps and who is involved is a starting place for clarity, trust, and transparency.
• Be intentional in your word choices around change. The thought of change tends to default to a negative, unsettled state of mind. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. By no means do you want to be unrealistic with what’s in front of you. However, change brings opportunity and the ability for new leaders to emerge.
• Make the decision process transparent. Share relevant details across your organization about the opportunity at hand, who was involved in examining it, why this decision was made over alternatives, and how it was reached. Decisions don’t just happen without thought, consideration, and planning on some front, so realizing this and putting it into perspective for all involved is critical.
• Be purposeful with any information you choose to withhold. For example, if a decision is pending, it may not be the right time to share if stakes are high. Set the intention to make sure others aren’t left in the dark, and at the same time, make sure the information you currently have available to disclose is accurate before disclosing it.
• Involve the people who will be impacted by the changes. Although leadership will own the final decision, the best information is always “in the room.” It’s important to involve employees of all levels (especially those who will be directly affected by the decision) in conversations about potential changes in order to have inclusion and buy-in at the start. Leaders should invite collaboration and take multiple perspectives into consideration in order to make the best and most informed decisions.
• Have a plan and be timely about communicating it. What are the projected timelines? How will the change be “rolled out” or implemented? How will bases be covered? What are the expected results? Keep the doors open as well. Set aside time for conversations, encourage questions, invite new ideas and address any potential concerns. Remember, with change comes opportunity, and new leaders can emerge.
Skillful conversations are the solution to reframing change as an opportunity to be harnessed. It’s a catalyst for new ideas and a point to pivot in a direction that brings insight that may not have surfaced otherwise. By being intentional in implementing these key strategies during times of change, you will be setting yourself and your organization up for accountable solutions that can produce alignment and desirable outcomes.
By introducing Fierce Conversations into their workplace, BC Public Service Agency acquired the skills to manage change effectively. Check out the case study here.