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When change is all around you, how can you lead?

When change is all around you, how do you lead?

By Nicole Weber

Let’s face it, the disability and human services sectors have been dealing with monumental change for the past 6 years or more, add in the disruptions of Covid-19 and you’ve got a storm of change that would challenge even the most adaptable person. If you’re running a business or leading a team in an organisation, chances are you’re dealing with change at multiple levels and on multiple fronts. Change at home, change at work, change in the sector. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

This article isn’t so much about formal change management. You can find great resources online that will spell out change management processes, like Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change. And if you need support with change management, we’re here to help.

Change is constant though so as a leader it can be helpful to have a few ‘truths’ and strategies in your back pocket. These can help you navigate change and steer the ship through those rough waters. I’ve been helping leaders navigate change for over 20 years, and here are some key things I’ve found helpful to keep in mind.

  1. Use your mission and values to guide you. (This assumes you’ve got a clearly stated mission statement and values. If you haven’t got these, get in touch and we can support you with that). Your mission and values give you a really clear framework to steer you through change. Talk with your team about how the change relates to your mission and use the values to guide expectations. Get the team involved in coming up with strategies to flex and respond to change based on your mission and values.
  2. Keep the lines of communication open. It will make it much easier for people to process change and understand their role in it if you can tell people:
      • What is changing
      • Why is it changing
      • Who will it affect
      • When will the change happen
      • How will it be implemented
      • What will we notice is different (or how will we measure success)
  1. Be transparent about what is known and not known. I’ve seen leaders try to ‘protect’ their teams from change. It doesn’t work, it creates mistrust and fear. Respect that your team members will be able to handle tough news and be open about what you DO know and what you DON’T know about what is changing.
  2. Be honest about what is negotiable and non-negotiable. There’s no point making promises you can’t keep. It’s a quick way to erode trust and get people offside. Be clear from the outset about what is up for negotiation and what isn’t. That way people know where to focus their efforts if they want to negotiate and you won’t waste precious energy on things that aren’t negotiable.
  3. Give people easy ways to ask questions. This is especially important with ‘big change’ like restructures or completely new ways of doing things. When I worked for a big organisation that had announced a restructure (and a whole lot of redundancies) we created a simple system for people to ask questions and ‘fact check’. They could email any of the managers right up to the CEO and use the subject line ‘Wild Gossip’. These emails were easy for managers to spot, read and respond to quickly. It meant that gossip was nipped in the bud and not allowed to spread.
  4. Acknowledge emotional responses. Humans crave certainty and it’s normal for us to feel scared, angry, resentful and a whole bag of emotions when we experience change. A lot of the change we’ve been experiencing has hit people personally and professionally, so there’s bound to be some strong emotions. Don’t be scared to sit and listen to difficult emotions. In his book ‘Fully Human’, Steve Biddulph talks about how emotions are like an energy charge – they have to go somewhere. When you acknowledge them it allows people to process the emotion instead of trying to squash it down. Squashed emotions have a habit of leaking out at the worst possible time.

By having some simple strategies in your pocket, you can switch out of a reactive response to change, and be proactive instead. When leaders can stay calm in the eye of storm, they’re more likely to lead their team all together out the other side.

If your team needs support to manage the tough emotions that come with change, we’ve got you! Get in touch to find out more about how we can help.
To find out more about how we can support your organisation, check out our full range of services.