How to Lead a Team Through Change | Fierce

employees in a meeting room seated at a table with the manager discussing how to make the job of change much easier

You’ve probably been part of an organization where you were blindsided by change. One day you entered the office, an email hit your inbox and work life suddenly became very different. You immediately saw co-workers begin to grumble and question the wisdom of leadership. Some may have begun brushing up their resume to find different employment. Toxic culture began breeding

Even if the ultimate change was positive, the emotions surrounding the change damaged the organization. Had events been handled differently even difficult change could have had a more positive effect on the organization.

Change is part of life, and in today’s fast paced global environment, it can take one news story to impact your organization. When an organization plans for growth, it is impossible for life to stay at status quo. While we may expect change, actually leading your organization during these times can be hard.

Basic Structure of Change

When change is necessary, there are 3 basic stages where leaders must lead: 

  1. The Need for Change
  2. The Implementation of Change
  3. The Evaluation of Change

Leaders must communicate through each step. Once the need for change is recognized, this is the time to communicate clearly, build consensus, and create plans. Eventually, you move into change implementation. Even though the focus is on action, communication is still critical. Plans must adapt as you continually monitor progress and pull feedback from your team. Even though it may feel change never ends (and it doesn’t), your current iteration of change will settle out. During this time, you should take time to debrief and see what you learned for the next change on the horizon.

Change is rarely mechanical with sequential steps leading to utopian outcomes. There is struggle and development and usually the unexpected happens when leading a team. In spite of these facts, we have learned several principles that help organizations and leaders manage themselves and people through both external and internal change.

Principles for Effective Change

1. Have conversations

We are Fierce. Of course we are going to mention conversation as an important element for leading a team through change. Honest conversations using structured systems allow both transparency and honesty providing feedback on needed change. New innovation may arise. Blind spots in new directions can be spotted. Motivation and enthusiasm are more likely to occur when deep conversation is allowed.  

2. Provide outlets for discussion

Not only must leadership communicate, but space must be allowed for teams to discuss during times of change. Open, honest discussion among contributors can alert leaders to potential problems, but also signal areas where they need to communicate differently. Communication can be hard, and you need tools to be understood. Don’t forget the context where the message is being heard. Allowing outlets for team discussion will help understand how your direction is being framed.

3. Don’t forget the metrics

Change is about people, but metrics keep you on track. Have metrics in place to determine how change is progressing. Share those metrics throughout the organization as guideposts to where you are going. Explain how those metrics will not only impact the company but each individual contributor.

4. Stay Transparent

Especially in times of difficult decision making, being transparent builds trust. Share as much as possible and explain what is happening externally and internally that elicited change. Leaders will lower the anxiety level of the organization as they listen and make room for questions.

5. Paint images of a positive future

Consider the frame of change. Continually paint the picture of the ultimate future state where the organization is heading at the end of change. Focusing on the end goal creates hope inside of teams and pulls them through the hard days.

6. Lead with confidence

As a leader, you often need to make hard decisions. Even with feedback from other leaders, eventually you have to drive the change. Do so with confidence, knowing you listened and considered every option. Leading with confidence will build confidence in your team members

7. Provide a clear plan

When communicating changes inside an organization or team, deliver a clear roadmap of not only where you are heading but what the steps along the way look like. Your people need to know how to navigate the challenges ahead, and not providing clear plans and direction through the process will only build anxiety and decrease confidence in the organization.

8. Mitigate conflict

In times of change, conflict will arise. You can’t bury your head in the sand and expect each decision to be embraced by everyone. Stress may be high at times. Brush off your conflict resolution skills and have the tools ready to move people through difficult decision making. Conflict may occur between team members and managers or even between individual contributors. Train your people to work through conflict and come to resolution through open conversations.

9. Applaud and praise

Take time throughout the process to find people doing good work. Praise and applaud those moving the company toward its desired end. Positive reinforcement will breed more positive action. You demonstrate actions and attitudes that others can emulate to keep morale high and work productive.

10. Build a future game plan

Each day throughout a change, look at what went well, what you learned, and where you need to take action. Keeping track of these events will not only help you manage change among your team, but provide a clear game plan for future scenarios. Don’t lose the wisdom you gained as you move your people through transition. 

Change can be difficult, but you can prepare your people for change and prime them for success. Knowing how to communicate clearly and listen well, make the job of change much easier. Not only will reaching the goal become smoother, but your team will have new skills and resilience for a productive future.

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