Leaders can help employees get through process of change

by DAVE BENAK
Contributing Writer

Adapting to change is one issue, implementing it is another. As a leader, you are no longer responsible just for yourself, but for all of your people and for their cumulative reaction to a change. It's important to develop strategies that respect and understand them while simultaneously guiding your organization to where it needs to be.

One way is by putting yourself in your employees' shoes and looking at the dynamics of how they'll react and behave.

People will feel awkward, ill at ease and self-conscious.

It's normal for people to feel this way. It is a loss. A loss where they may not know exactly what or how much they're losing. So tell them to expect to feel uncomfortable, that it's OK to feel that way and that you welcome the sharing of feelings. Be sure to stay positive and offer no advice.

People will think about what they will have to give up.

Initially, don't try to oversell the benefits of the change. A loss is a painful thing to work through so allow them to legitimatize their losses and to mourn.

People feel alone even when everyone else is going through the same change.

When someone experiences loss, they can be so consumed with the loss and its impact that they may not think (or care) about anyone or anything else. It helps to structure activities that create involvement with others, encouraging them to share ideas and work together to help each other through the change.

People can only handle so much change.

There is a limit. Your employees need encouragement, reinforcement and recognition. But also keep in mind that the human organism is very resilient and humans can handle more than they think they can. You're the person to remind them of this and show them how.

People are at different readiness levels for change.

Some people are risk takers. Others take longer to feel secure. Don't label people or pick on them if they don't immediately jump onto the bandwagon. Those who most resist change - when courted respectfully and given time to accept it - will become its biggest champions.

People will be concerned with the lack of resources. We rarely have all the resources we need. Encourage creative problem solving and set firm priorities that might even eliminate the need for some resources.

People will revert to old behavior if you take the pressure off. Keep your focus on maintaining the change and managing the "journey". After all, it's only a journey and not a final destination.

Here's another way to look at change implementation. Wilson Learning has a technique called LSCPA that helps take the tension out of emotionally charged situations:

  • Listen: Encourage the employee to express how they feel and why they feel that way. Ask for specifics.
  • Share: Offer feedback that you understand how they feel and why they feel that way. You do not have to agree with them. Share your concern and/or feelings about how the situation may affect the employee.
  • Clarify: Restate the employee's words to clarify the real issues. This prepares the person to receive and/or accept new ideas, another viewpoint or an example.
  • Present: If you can, provide answers. If you can't, say "I don't know". Be confident, positive and optimistic as you offer your ideas, opinions and possible solutions. Don't get discouraged if the employee doesn't buy your viewpoint. You're simply offering food for thought, understanding and perspective.
  • Ask: Ask the employee for a renewed commitment toward doing their job to the best of their ability. Ask them to get involved to the extent that they can, accepting the change as growth and opportunity rather than danger or crisis.

The ability to adapt is the key to survival for every business. Smart companies focus on leading change and becoming a positive agent of it. It's true: you cannot force anyone to change. That's why persuading employees to embrace change is one of the most important duties of any leader or manager.

Dave Benak recently retired after 33 years as the training director for Consolidated Freightways in Menlo Park, Calif. He lives in Fisher's Landing teaching leadership, management and supervision at Clark College. He also owns and operates "TrainingPays", a local training and development company with clientele on the West Coast. Offer your comments, suggestions and ideas at (360) 944-7571 or TrainingPays@aol.com.


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