Managing change: 6 essential steps to make it work

ManagementNothing upsets the apple cart like change.

It creates fear, anxiety, tension and mistrust — and that’s before it ever happens!

Yet it is essential to success.

“It is not the strongest that survives,” Charles Darwin warns us. “It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Managing change is mishandled by well-meaning leaders with astonishing frequency.

With that in mind, here are six effective steps to keep things positive and productive when you must shake it up.

Communicate honestly

Some managers don’t want to share what’s coming for fear it might upset people. So they trickle out little bits here and there, and it all begins to feel very secret and uncertain.

The result is that, before you know it, people are stressed and filling in the blanks themselves, usually with doom and gloom.

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So don’t go there.

Rumors only increase stress and decrease motivation, making the process all that much harder. Try to plan a way to share all the information you reasonably can, and be straightforward.

It’s better that employees know to expect some bumps in the road, and that you’ll be there with them to help see it through.

When you don’t know something, it’s OK to say so: “I don’t know, but I will try to find out and communicate what I can with you.” Not knowing everything is not a weakness.

When critical information can’t be shared for confidential reasons, say that, too. But let them know why. For example, “I can’t talk about that yet because it’s a financial decision that others will be making.”

People value transparent communication. It builds loyalty and commitment.

Involve everyone

The bigger the change, the higher the emotional levels and the greater the resistance.

That’s why it’s essential to help employees feel they have some control. When people are pulled into the effort from the start, they’re more likely to embrace it.

Managers who believe only they need to know about changes, and tend to hold discussions behind closed doors, will struggle to get the changes implemented.

Instead, getting input from people makes them part of the process and creates opportunities and a sense of ownership.

This, in turn, can lighten a manager’s load by spreading around and sharing the organizational work.

That’s not to say you won’t have complainers. You will. And when you do, listen. If the complaints are legit, address them.

If not, deal with them immediately by letting people know you’ve considered what they’ve said, here’s what you’ve decided, and you’ll be moving forward.

Share the urgency and the outcome

When people get anxious they look to their managers for support and direction. This opens the door for leaders to build a sense of urgency and to get people wanting change.

Learning new things and developing new skills is intimidating. People fear failure.

So give them a compelling reason to change and positive support while they adjust.

A good way to do this is give people the big picture of what the changes will accomplish, and the positive outcomes.

The optimistic message is: “By making these changes, here’s how things will improve!”

This lets people know better days are coming, and they will adopt the same belief, too.

Celebrate accomplishments

Let employees know they are on the right track by recognizing and rewarding achievements, large and small.

When good people see others being recognized for their accomplishments, they want the same for themselves.

Rewards don’t have to be monetary. They could be as simple a half day or day off, more desirable assignments, the opportunity to lead a project, etc.

Prepare, and then prepare some more

Rule No. 1: Assume nothing will go according to plan. Some things will and some won’t. When they don’t, you’ll be ready.

To manage change effectively means to constantly reassess what’s taking place, the impact on the organization, and people’s willingness and ability to take on the next stage of the change process.

That’s keeps you in the best position to tweak the plan to fit the new requirements.

Take responsibility

It is the employees’ responsibility is to do their very best at adapting to the changes. It is managements responsibility to be sure employees are prepared to handle what’s coming at them. In other words, it is the manager’s role to interpret, communicate, teach and enable – and not to impose.

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