Change is emotional.
Change stirs all sorts of emotions. Fear. Anxiety. Excitement. Resentment. Optimism. Doubt. Confidence. And when change occurs within large organizations, business leaders and managers must deal with competing emotions from their people, partners, customers and shareholders.
And change has become something of the norm these days. To keep ahead, companies must change. There are internal changes, such as the adoption new technologies, processes and systems which might excite some people and worry others. As they may have to let go of old best practices and face retraining or changes to roles and responsibilities. Acquisitions, mergers and organizational restructuring can bring about high levels of unhealthy stress as they could mean job loses or demotions. Then there’s the external forces brought on by new competition or changes in the marketplace. Which are difficult to anticipate and navigate.
There are many change management processes out there. When applied with discipline and rigour most do a sufficient job at managing resources, processes and assets. However, change management needs to evolve and incorporate people (not as resources but as human beings with emotions) and the culture of work into the equation. Left unattended change will definitely stir up weaknesses in both people and culture leaving leaders unprepared to deal with the consequences. It has been well studied that most transformations fail or fall short of expectations because leaders didn’t take into account the human and cultural aspects of their organization.
In our approach to coaching for change we draw leader’s attention to some of the following.
Be clear with why the change is necessary. The lack of clarity of its purpose will make room for uncertainty, fear and potentially a breakdown in trust. The purpose needs to be inclusive of everyone involved. How does change feed into the purpose of the organization as a whole? How will the change create value for your people, partners, customers and shareholders? How will change benefit your environment and communities? How will change create value in the marketplace? Is the change a short-term fix or will it have a positive impact over the long-term? If you’re clear as to why change is important your people should feel inspired and motivated to support the change – even if they may disagree with the need for change.
In most transformation initiatives, employees feel change is done to them not with them. Considering that change is emotional, it should be no surprise how change stirs up a variety of positive and negative feelings. And they can get in the way of productivity and efficiency. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others goes a long way to building connections of trust. If leaders can learn to empathize with their people they can identify where they are along the continuum of change and encourage them to become advocates for change.
I’ve seen my share of strategic plans. Mostly written in cryptic business speak. They might as well be written in Greek (no offence to the Greeks). Communication when distributed downwards must be transparent and easily understood by the masses. Executive jargon may sound smart but it doesn’t embolden trust and confidence in your people. Communicate regularly. Make sure your leaders are clear and on the same page. And be transparent. Include the good, the bad and the ugly news. It goes a long way to building a healthy culture.
Probably the most important skill of leading through change – listening. Listening powerfully, with full attention, goes along way to understanding the impacts change will have on an organization, its people and culture. Assign ambassadors to sit with your people across the organization. Ask questions and listen. Gather feedback through surveys, workshops or town hall meetings. Listening will uncover potential issues, road blocks and hazards that will affect the success of the change. Listening also has a way of calming fears and anxiety, because your people walk away feeling heard. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
Emotions isn’t something to ignore or walk away from. Emotions can be very informative and insightful. It’s up to leaders to build a deeper awareness of emotions so they can be more helpful when navigating major change.