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Taking the Fear out of Change

Few words scare people like “change.” While we know that change is critical for organizations who want to stay cutting edge and prepare for the future, the fact is that change and disruption are hard on individuals and teams. They mess with our routines, raise questions about proper procedure and protocol, and force us to change our behaviors. Worst of all, they create a fundamental baseline of uncertainty, which cause many to descend into fear and doubt.

So what can leaders so to manage change effectively in the organizations and with their teams? The following are strategies to help manage change effectively:

  1. Set the expectation that change is inevitable – Communicate your vision of a dynamic and evolving organization, where progress and change are inevitable. When a major shift happens, your people will be more likely to accept it as a matter of course.
  2. Make the Case for Change – Engage employees and creating a compelling case for the change that you’re considering. Leadership consultant Deborah Macklin suggests that leaders would also be well served to create a strong case for change together with their primary stakeholders. Consider asking your people the following questions: What is the background for the change? What challenges or problems do we face in the current situation that will cripple us if we don’t begin addressing them today? What will happen if we stay the same? What are we going to have to let go of and why? What will the change require? What will it cost us to change? How will we know when we have succeeded?
  3. Gain your people’s support and trust – Change is far likelier to succeed when people believe in, trust, and connect with the leader.
  4. Communicate early and often – Prior to the change launch and for weeks / months afterwards, engage in constant communication about the process, its successes and setbacks. Remember, the absence of information will typically result in people drawing the wrong, often negative, conclusion.
  5. Invest in education and training – Ask yourself what your people need to know in order to advance this change and how you will ensure that they learn it.
  6. Measure progress – Take the time to determine what’s working and what isn’t. Reinforce that which is and take steps to correct problems before they grow into something bigger and more unwieldy.
  7. Understand the “How Will it Affect Me?” principle – Regardless of the change, every employee wants to know how this will affect them. Look at the change through the eyes of each department or person, and give them time to work through their own individual reactions.
  8. Embrace the Change Cycle Each person will proceed through change at his or her own pace through a cycle which starts with feelings of loss, then doubt, then discomfort, followed by discovery, understanding, and finally integration. Remember that organizations don’t change, people do.
  9. Learn to manage resistance Once you’ve made the announcement, give people ample time to work through their reactions, and offered personal assistance to the stragglers. Make sure that you aren't simply responding to a symptom, but really addressing what is causing the resistance.