Why is it that some leaders think by keeping everything a secret when they know big changes are coming, is somehow going to make their employees feel better about that change? I personally love surprises when they come in the form of a present or a night out on the town, but when it involves changes to my job… not so much. I can’t think of one person I have met in my career who was thankful that their leader kept everything hidden until the moment the big change took place. Most people in fact became resentful and distrusting of their leaders.
Having been a Director in Human Resources, I do understand there are sensitive issues that require planning and appropriate timing. I believe there has to be a communication strategy in place and a clear plan of what is going to happen to all involved, so as to minimize the “water cooler discussions” that evoke panic and chaos. I also believe we are working with adults who are able to process change if we allow them the time to do so, and who might also be better equipped to identify critical steps necessary to carry out the change successfully.
Too often, we fail to involve those who are directly impacted by the change, and likely responsible for the long-term success of that change. Who would know better than your front-line employees what obstacles might prevent your team from being successful?
Shift Happens, in all businesses. A common phrase we all know is, “the only constant in life is change.”
If we as society know this, why do we think our employees can’t handle the change happening in our businesses? They live in a world that is constantly changing.
As a leader, it is important to be transparent in your communication. I am not saying become reckless or spontaneous in what you share; rather be open, honest, and forthcoming. Sharing clear, purposeful communication is the key to leading through change successfully.
Here are three tips to help you more successfully lead through change, while building greater trust and respect in your employees:
1) Know the purpose for the change. Is it really necessary? Change for the sake of changing will not likely be supported long-term. If it isn’t necessary, rethink your strategy before bringing about the change. Before proceeding with change, understand what the benefits are to your customers, your business, and your employees. Make sure you identify the WHY for the change and share that first, as you build your communication strategy. Help your employees see the WIFM (What’s In It for Me).
2) Seek Input from those directly impacted by the change BEFORE it’s officially rolled out. I understand in some cases matters are extremely sensitive and have to be kept confidential. However, in many cases we could and should notify employees who will be impacted by the change earlier on in the process, recognizing they have a stake in the game too. If you don’t have a culture that is open and trusting right now, it might be better to try communicating smaller changes to begin with. Start asking for employee input earlier on, so they start to feel a sense of trust and ownership in those changes. Gain some small wins so your team will be prepared to embrace bigger changes down the road. They will remember how you involved them in the past and listened to their ideas. They will be more likely to stay connected and supportive through future changes.
3) Communicate Clearly and Frequently. As the conversations begin and information is shared about the impending change ahead, it is absolutely critical to keep the lines of communication open throughout the entire process.
- Continue to provide updates as plans are adjusted, (because we know they will be.)
- Communicate what education and support will be available during and after the change.
- Share any resources that can help your team move through the change.
- Identify people your employees can contact with questions they have.
- Check in throughout the transition, and be willing to listen to ideas and concerns.
Moving through change can be tough on everyone involved, but it doesn’t have to be scary. It’s only scary when we’re surprised and can’t see it coming. It can be a lot less painful though when there is trust and communication is clear.
I won’t say I wish you have a year without change, because I believe change can be very good for us all! Instead, I wish you a year with MUCH success, trust, and long-term sustainability through any changes you have!