Benjamin Franklin said that nothing in life is certain except death and taxes but I think Ben may have missed something. Change is an item we should add to the list. Everyone experiences change at some point and in today’s fast-moving world it often seems like change is constant. Technology quickly enhances, information is doubling faster, demographics are shifting and the world is shrinking into a global society. Change has become inevitable.
As I speak with our clients and teams, I hear more and more about the pace of change and the pressure to adapt to keep up with rapidly changing circumstances. Our clients operate in highly competitive environments and it’s important to remain relevant in their markets – this search for relevance demands an ability to continuously evolve.
The challenge with this rapid pace of change is the unsettling effect it can have on our teams. Change can be scary, it’s often ambiguous, routines are interrupted and there becomes a fear of the unknown. All of this brings about varying levels of chaos and creates anxiety for many. This causes teams to become less engaged and creates a lower quality of life for individuals.
Regardless of the size or type of change, there are key steps leaders can take to create an engaging environment during an uncomfortable time. This approach helps people understand, better accept and potentially even embrace change – improving the quality of outcomes and increasing the chances for successful change, driven by highly engaged teams.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
It’s pretty hard to over-communicate during times of change. Speak and speak often because in the absence of communication people will make up their own stories. Don’t fall victim to that trap. Enough said.
- Be as clear as possible on the Why, What and How
Getting your team to understand the WHY behind change is very important. If they know the reason for change there is a greater chance for acceptance and this knowledge can help motivate them to support the change. Next you must define exactly WHAT is changing. Be clear with your team about the what and help them understand the goal to be accomplished. Finally, provide as much detail as possible around HOW the change will happen. Tell your team about the process, timeline, milestones and targets. Help them understand how they will benefit from the change and how they might be impacted (See #3). When possible, you should include your team in defining the WHY, WHAT and HOW. This creates tremendous buy-in from individuals and gives them some ownership in the success or failure of the initiative.
- Help people understand the impact
This expands on the ‘how’ from step #2. Most people naturally think “what about me” when change happens. Be very aware of this concern, address it openly and most importantly tell them what they can expect from the changes coming. It’s critical for a leader to address this question as it creates the highest levels of anxiety for people.
- Maintain transparency
There may be times you can’t share all the details of a change initiative due to sensitive or confidential information, but you shouldn’t shy away from telling people that. Be transparent, upfront and honest about what’s happening, without violating confidentiality. Always share what you can, when you can and people will respect the leader and the process more because of it.
- Listen, be available for questions and be sensitive to concerns
Listening is a critical part to successfully engaging your team. People want to be heard and they want to know you hear them. The old saying, ‘people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’, especially rings true here. Listen to individual concerns, allow them to voice thoughts or opinions and provide an opportunity to ask questions. This shows compassion and care for people and will certainly improve levels of engagement with your team.
- Communicate some more, follow-up & follow-through
Provide regular updates, respond to questions, do what you said you were going to do and keep repeating steps 1-5 as often as needed. Communication must be on-going to keep your team engaged.
Whether the change you’re experiencing (or attempting to implement) is small or large – following these steps will greatly improve the engagement of your team. Successfully engaging people improves their quality of life by decreasing anxiety and helping them feel valued, ultimately creating better outcomes. Change is best implemented when people feel as though it’s something they helped do as opposed to something that was done to them. Be a great leader and help your team prepare for the inevitable – with all due respect to Ben Franklin, nothing in life may be more certain than change!