Change can be disorienting for workers, especially when it is sudden — and significant, like the COVID-19 outbreak. For business leaders who need to manage change in an organization, it is critical to avoid any disconnects with staff as the business goes through a period of disruption and transition. Uncertainty can easily spawn rumors, frustration, resentment and stress — even fear.
Navigating dramatic changes in your organization and industry is challenging, especially from a human resources perspective. But there are many things you can do as a manager, starting now, to guide your team through dramatic change successfully. Here’s a quick look at a few basic change management tips that can help you along that journey:
1. Communicate often — but be strategic
Share as much information with your employees as you think is appropriate, which will depend not only on the situation but also your team’s unique needs. You just don’t want to leave your team in the dark, even if you only have limited details about what the change, expected or not, might mean for the organization.
You also want to avoid doing the opposite: overwhelming your employees with unnecessary details. So, as a first step to deciding exactly what to share, ask yourself: Which details are essential for my team to understand, and what additional information might be important for them to hear as well?
Also, be factual when sharing information as part of change management — don’t speculate about what might happen next. Offering theories and setting unrealistic goals or timelines can undermine efforts to manage change in an organization effectively. So, too, can downplaying the impact of the change. By not being honest about the serious nature of a change event — even if you are just trying to be optimistic — you risk eroding your employees’ trust and confidence in your leadership during a critical time.
2. Acknowledge employees’ feelings
Again, without sugarcoating, highlight any short- or long-term benefits employees might experience because of the change. Not all change is bad, of course, even if it upends the status quo in your business.
However, if it’s hard to find a silver lining in a change event, simply emphasize the fact that you’re “all in this together.” You can help your employees cope with change effectively by reminding them that you are experiencing the change, too, and share many of the same concerns.
Don’t assume you know exactly what your workers are feeling, though. So, when rolling out changes or instituting new policies and processes in response to a disruptive change event, take your employees’ emotions into account. Bad feelings can lead to low morale, which can undermine productivity and retention — as well as a willingness to adapt to the change.
Also, be sure to keep the lines of communication open with your staff throughout the change period. Make yourself available for questions and share any pertinent updates with employees as quickly as possible. If your employees are working remotely, make a point to touch base with them frequently by phone or video chat, both individually and as a team.
3. Invite employees to help with problem solving
Once you’ve alerted your employees to the change, invite their input on how best to respond to it — and ask them to communicate their needs. Your employees are likely very resilient, and their ideas and perspectives on how to adapt and even thrive in the face of change can be invaluable.
For example, if a natural disaster leads to the office closing for an indefinite period, and remote work arrangements become a necessity for everyone, what will your team members need to remain productive? No doubt, many of your employees will have opinions about which online applications could help the team to communicate and collaborate effectively, keep pushing work forward, and ensure business needs are met.
If the change is more positive, and less immediate — such as a shift to a new business system — try to involve employees in the change process by giving them tasks that contribute to the end goal. By letting your employees share ownership and responsibility for the transition, they will feel more in control. More than that, including employees in problem solving makes them feel valued and important to the company’s future success.
4. Follow through on plans — but be flexible
Tenacity is key to adapting to change. Without commitment and determination, your team won’t get far in shifting to the “new normal” you are asking them to embrace.
Remain firm in your goals and ensure that changes are implemented properly. That includes shifting to new processes and policies that may need to be instituted following a major change event. If parts of the plan you’ve outlined are ignored or left unfinished, it implies that those elements are not necessary, and employees will be less inclined to help make them a reality.
Given the above advice, the second part of this change management tip may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important to keep in focus: While working to follow through on plans, you also need to remain flexible. Be ready to alter your strategies, if necessary, to get past bumps in the road. Change is a process. And, to manage change in an organization effectively, you need to be prepared to take detours at times so that ultimately, your team can stay on course and reach the intended destination.
5. Celebrate success — and keep looking forward
Business leaders can only do so much on their own to manage change in an organization. Successful change hinges largely on teamwork. So, be quick to celebrate your team’s successes throughout the change process, and reward employees who go above and beyond to help their colleagues “keep calm and carry on” in a time of disruption and uncertainty.
Once your business has implemented a planned change — or adapted to an unplanned one — it doesn’t mean it’s time to stop managing change. The post-change environment may mean opening a whole new chapter of communication with your employees, in fact.
The change may have altered your organizational culture in some way, for instance, so you will need to communicate the new vision. You might need to discuss additional training options to ensure your employees succeed in the post-change work environment. You may also need to explain to your staff why the business wants to engage interim resources to support certain projects.
When you need to manage change in an organization, communication is a critical first step to giving your employees knowledge that can bring them comfort and instill confidence. Communication is an essential tool through every step of the change management journey, actually — from gauging employees’ feelings to acknowledging staff members’ contributions in achieving positive outcomes.
Together, the five change management tips presented here can help you take a proactive, thoughtful and strategic approach in helping your employees not only to navigate, but also succeed in, an uncertain and challenging time.