Change in the workplace is inevitable, and a manager's role in helping his employees embrace that change can make a difference in ensuring a smooth transition.
Do you like change? Go ahead and admit it if you don't, because you'll be in good company. Change takes us out of our comfort zones to something unfamiliar, unknown, and even frightening. Many people have a negative attitude about change because as soon as they get used to the new order of things, the next wave of changes comes crashing into their world.
However, when you think about it, change is not such a bad thing. Imagine what your life would be like if nothing ever changed. It might be like the movie Groundhog Day in which actor Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again desperately trying to move ahead in his life.
So, look at change differently—and help those who work for you become more comfortable with the inevitable changes that occur constantly in your workplace. Even though it may not always seem like it at the time when it occurs, change is not the enemy, nor does it necessarily always bring unwelcomed events. Helping your employees understand this can be a major step toward changing peoples' attitudes about change.
Hearing the news
What should you do when you first hear about a major change in your organization but may not be emotionally ready for its arrival? How about kicking your wastepaper basket across the office? Obviously this wouldn't be a good thing to do, especially in front of your staff or direct reports. It would only make them view this change negatively.
A much better strategy would be to learn as much as you can about the impending change and help those who work for you better understand the reasons and rationale for this change. You should help others accept this inevitable change as something that should be welcomed rather than resisted.
Most important is to have a positive change attitude and instill the same in those you lead about what's to come. This will lead to much better results for everyone concerning the change process that is about to begin. The next time change is announced in your organization, keep the following suggestions in mind and pass them along to your direct reports.
Don't burn your bridges. We cross over many bridges of sorts in our careers that help us move forward, and these can become even more important during times of change at work. As you move forward, you need to keep these bridges in good repair.
In other words, keep your options open. Don't eliminate possibilities that now might be more attractive options than they may have been before the changes occurred. You might find that you may need these previously crossed bridges in the future.
Don't become self-destructive. People sometimes say and do things that they regret later when they hear about changes being made that they believe will not be positive for them personally. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in which a person actually causes bad things to happen because of his attitude about the change. Making such remarks as "I'm not going along with this change" or "If they make this change I'm going to quit the company" could just land you in the unemployment line.
Don't turn into the complainer. There isn't any sense in going around complaining about how unfair or unjust the change in the organization might be from your perspective. Eventually others will get tired of hearing you gripe about the change and will want to move forward. Continuing to dwell on the past only will serve to leave you behind as everyone progresses ahead. Ultimately you will be judged not by how much you opposed the change, but how you helped it be successful.
Maintain your self-esteem. Remember, you are the same person as you were before the changes were announced. If you feel that you were negatively affected by the change, don't let it alter how you feel about yourself. Show everyone, including yourself, that you are not going to let it affect your self-esteem. This could be the most important thing you can do to positively influence how the next change will affect you in the future.
Maintain working relationships. It is important that you preserve your working relationships with others in the organization during times of change. Change can be a difficult time for everyone, and you need to support one another to deal with it in a positive manner.
The timing of change
A key part of learning to manage change is to identify and understand the players involved in the change process. There typically are three different groups who are involved in change implementation in an organization.
The first could be called the change initiators. They usually are the decision makers in the organization who see the necessity for change and take action to implement the needed steps to make the change happen. Change initiators usually delegate the responsibility of implementing these changes to another group, the change implementers, who usually are the next level down in the organization.
Then there are those who will be most directly affected by the changes—the change targets. These are the employees who will need to adjust to the new order of things in the organization resulting from these changes.
The greatest challenge from a management perspective is the timing in which each of these groups becomes involved in the change process. The change initiators are the first to learn about the impending changes because it was their idea. But just because they initiated the changes doesn't mean that they won't feel some emotion about them.
The same is true for the change implementers, who are emotionally affected even if not personally affected. The change targets, however, will be both personally and emotionally affected by these changes.
The problem is that often by the time the change initiators and change implementers communicate the change to the change targets, they already have emotionally moved on to the next change they envision coming in the organization. As a result, they may be insensitive to the feelings the change targets might be experiencing at the time of the announcement.
When managing change, it is important that, as you introduce these changes to those most affected, you remember how you felt when you first learned about the changes. Take the time to help them emotionally deal with what will be different in their working lives as a result and do not become dismissive of their feelings just because you already have emotionally moved on to the next change.
Different sides of change
One of the first steps you may need to take is to begin to look at change differently and perhaps from a different perspective. The "change box" illustrates some of the different sides of change not always seen at the beginning of the change process.
In this view, you can see four different sides of this box. But what about the sides that are not seen from this perspective? Envision what sides E, F, or G might look like if they could be seen from a different perspective or view of this box.
Similarly, change has sides to it that also may not always be readily apparent. There are aspects of impending change that only can be seen once the process has been initiated and fully understood. You never know what unexpected consequences may result from change. It can bring outcomes never anticipated, often creating opportunities that would not have been possible otherwise.
Thinking about change as a benefit rather than something that should be dreaded can help you and those who work for you have a much more positive attitude about change in the future. When change knocks, you need to answer the door, invite it into your life, and anticipate positive results from its arrival. Helping your employees understand that change can often bring unexpected benefits can help them think more positively about it in the future and make this their self-fulfilling prophecy.
Ten rungs of the career ladder
Since change can create opportunities, you need to have the right perspective to recognize these possibilities. As a leader you must help those who work for you to grow and progress in their careers as they deal with organizational changes.
There are 10 ways to help your employees climb their career ladders during times of change. You should work with your training and development department to help support these initiatives.
Rung 1: Add value to your position. Help every direct report understand how important it is to add value to their positions. Regardless of the level of the position in the organization, it still is important or it wouldn't exist. During times of change, others often look to those who add the most value to their jobs and make the greatest contribution to the organization for help and guidance. This shows everyone the importance of this job to the organization in the future.
Rung 2: Let others know what you want to do. As a supervisor, you also have a responsibility to ensure that others understand your employees' goals. In a sense you are like a gatekeeper to future opportunities for those who report to you.
Rung 3: Ask others for their support. You are a key part of this support for your employees and you should help guide them to other resources and support systems in the organization as well.
Rung 4: Develop a strategy for success. You need to partner with your employees to develop their career success plans and help them accomplish these objectives. This is one of the most important things that your employees want and expect from you as their supervisor. This is particularly true during times of change to help your employees understand the new requirements for success as the organization changes.
Rung 5: Learn new skills. Change brings new opportunities by its very nature. You need to help your employees learn the skills needed to be successful in the future.
Rung 6: Make yourself indispensable. To become indispensable, employees should learn those skills or jobs that are unique or essential to the future of the organization. You need to help your staff understand what these skills might be and provide learning opportunities to them. This also is relevant during times of organizational change because decisions may be made about who needs to be part of the future plans for the organization.
Rung 7: Don't underestimate the competition. You need to challenge those who report to you to continuously develop and grow to be able to stay competitive in the future as things change and decisions are made about who are the best players in the organization.
Rung 8: Keep on networking. Networking and staying connected with others is essential to keep up with the pace of change today. You need to keep networking and encourage your employees to do the same to stay tuned into the most current information and data available on a real-time basis. You easily can be left behind in our communication age today if you don't develop your own information network to keep updated constantly.
Rung 9: Enhance your personal image. The image that you project to others is your personal employment brand, just like that of a product or service an organization may market. Your image or brand is not only your physical appearance, but also how others perceive you in your current role or potential future roles in the organization. Helping your employees to better understand this concept can help them continue to enhance this aspect of their careers. It also can help them recognize what might be currently limiting their future growth.
Rung 10: Embrace change. Change is not the enemy, but rather a constant force that occurs every day to shape the future and things to come. You need to help others accept and even welcome the constant change that is a natural part of our daily lives.
You need to be a champion of change in your leadership role in your organization. As a leader, you can either allow this force to overpower you by resisting it, or harness its power to move your organization forward toward reaching your goals for continued success in this constantly changing world.