Top Performing Leaders Think Differently. Here’s how…

Top leaders become competent communicating organizational changes in ways that differentiate them from “typical” leaders. As a result, their employees become “raving fans” and will happily put in extra effort to achieve goals, even during disruptive, stressful change. Top leaders plan how to communicate change using expertise from the past 30-years of organizational change management methodology.

The list below is a summary of the most important concerns employees confront when learning about a change, and tips for how to address these concerns proactively. In doing so, leaders can reduce or eliminate many conflicts, costs, mistakes or disruptions that often occur when the leader’s conversations for change are lacking, incomplete or spoken poorly.

  1. Name the change. “We are changing from X to Y beginning on this date.” This overt statement may sound obvious, but it “queues” the leader to move into change management conversations versus speaking as one would when having operational conversations for example. Highlight that today marks the beginning of the “transition” period from X to Y. This signals to everyone, “we are in a transition phase now” and allows for new expectations to begin.
  2. After announcing a change, emphasize the external drivers of the change. For example, what has changed during the years between X and Y? If the change is a staff change, the leader might describe where the organization was at the start of this person’s employment and what the job requirements were at that time. Then, discuss the current job requirements and what is required today, and how the person helped grow the practice. This takes the change conversation from a “personal” conversation to an “organizational growth toward the vision/mission” conversation. If possible, make this conversation visible and involve people in the discussion. Ask, “What was happening at Your Company in 20xx? What’s new now as compared to then?”
  3. Emphasize what specifically has been accomplished between 20xx and 2016, for example. Be specific. Make your list as long as possible, given the time available. Without saying so, you are generating organizational confidence and showing staff, “we can change successfully and grow.” This also helps reduce resistance to, and/or fear of change and job uncertainty. If you miss this step, you miss a very important leadership opportunity to set the context for the upcoming change, based on past successes. Note: This will typically also build your confidence when you see what you have successfully led in past years. Tip: Make sure you listen to what your staff has to say for as much time as you spend talking. Their involvement in the conversation helps them deal with change and feel a part of the change versus a victim of change. This strategy is subtle, and it works.
  4. Next, discuss what you see that will NOT change. Review the vision, values, mission, objectives, the scorecard, and emphasize that “these will all stay the same for now.” If people’s roles, performance plans and compensation will stay the same, mention that. If the performance standards will stay the same, discuss that. Mention the staff that remains “the same.” List these to make visible what is staying the same. Ask the staff, “What else do you see that may stay the same?” Tell staff, “If and when any of this list changes, you will be informed and kept up-to-date.” Change is as much a part of growing a company, as is consistent procedures, processes and customer care.
  5. Discuss what will change – remember that employees will be concerned about the following:
    • Will I like my new boss or co-worker?
    • Will they like me?
    • Will they change the culture? What is important here?
    • Will they supervise me in the same way?
    • Will their standards for me be higher, the same or lower than my current boss?
    • Will I lose my freedom, flexibility or ability to work autonomously?

    People will most often be thinking about the downside of change, therefore address these concerns by naming them and saying, “Most people have these concerns when hearing about a new co-worker, new supervisor, etc.”

  6. Discuss the new possibilities or opportunities that “may” come from the change, or that are “expected” by the change. Be careful, as it is easy for people to listen to promises that you never spoke. Manage their expectations carefully.
  7. Be honest about what you don’t know. Be honest that there may even be things that you don’t know that you don’t know. Yes, I did say that last sentence. 🙂  All of us have “blind spots” and that is the uncertainty of change. And, emphasize that “we will work as a team, as we always do, to grow the company successfully and have a peaceful and positive, non-complaining / non-whining work atmosphere.”
  8. Tell staff you wish to be available to address their concerns throughout the change process. Some leaders have even said, “If you need to follow me to my car and walk with me to the lunchroom to get your question answered, do! I know it can be difficult to get my attention; so leave me a note, wave a flag, but just get in front of me.”
  9. Instruct people that, if they need assistance with the change, they should seek it out. Provide a coach as appropriate.
  10. Symbolize and/or ritualize the change. Good-bye or welcome lunches or happy hours are popular. If it is a staff change, maybe you have a favorite good-bye ritual. Maybe you could create a collage with pictures and words that acknowledge the person leaving. Or play a song that represents what this person has meant to you. I like ZZ Top’s “I Thank You.” Get creative.

In summary, the key is to address most of the concerns that people are going to feel up front. Often, taking the steps to name the “from / to” changes in a group setting and encouraging everyone to discuss their thoughts publicly, can create a sense of camaraderie, or a context of “we are in this together, and I am not alone.” Leverage the change to build teamwork. Reference the 4 Levels of Team Development. Tell people to expect Level 2 – the Storming Stage – as a necessary part of including new conversations into the company. AND, remind everyone that the organization is gaining competency on-boarding new people, and moving between the levels. Cite examples of how competency was gained using this tool and awareness has worked in the past.

Talk about change. Throughout the process, ask people “how are you doing with the change?” Change is inevitable. How much competency we gain with change is up to the leader and the team. The more we gain competency with change and transition, the less conflict arises and the more possibility we create.

Patty Shull

Patty Shull is an organizational change consultant and talent manager who develops key competencies in others to achieve business results. She uses creative and leading edge approaches to mentor leaders in making effective transitions. Her extensive experience includes global Fortune 100, non-profit, entrepreneurial, and government organizations. She is known for designing programs to develop leadership talent, speed organizational changes, mitigate risks, and turn employee resistance to employee commitment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *