It is normal for people to freak out during an organizational change! Why? Likely because the change will affect their job or how they work. Humans are programmed not to change. We crave consistency. We like to feel competent and capable. Many change initiatives trigger the opposite. They cause feelings of uncertainty, risk and fear of the unknown.
In a coaching call, my client Julia was telling me that one of her team members was being moved from his current location, to her office, ten kilometres away. Julia felt like this was an amazing lateral move for her colleague. She was really excited about this change and the additional support she would receive from her colleague now being on site with her.
When hearing about this change, large warning bells rang through my brain! Often leaders only view the change from their own perspective. They don’t think about the possible downsides for the other people involved. So, I asked Julia to pause and answer the following questions.
- What are the benefits of this change for your colleague?
- What will he be losing as a result of the change?
- What might cause him stress or make him angry regarding this change?
Julia found it so helpful to consider the change from his perspective. This really assisted her, later in the day, to tell him more empathetically about his move to a new location.
The normal emotions that people have when first hearing about or experiencing change can include denial, shock, anger, frustration, confusion or stress.
So, as a leader, here are some strategies to consider when helping a person or team to deal effectively with a new change:
- Acknowledge their losses openly and sympathetically
- Listen to their opinions and points of view as loss is subjective
- Give them time to mourn the past and accept the new situation
- Give information again and again so they are clear on the parameters of the change
As it turns out, Julia’s colleague was almost in tears when he heard about the move. He felt like he was being punished. Since Julia had already thought about this change from his perspective, she was not shocked by his response. Instead, she was empathetic. She patiently listened to him vent. She gave him time to express his concerns. Then she clearly articulated why in fact this move was a fantastic career opportunity. She explained that he was carefully selected for the new role because he is such a valuable contributor to the team. She handed him a document indicating all the new and interesting projects that he would be leading at the new site.
Don’t underestimate the impact that change has on people. Rather, put yourself in their shoes. As leaders, we often only consider the big picture when implementing change. Take a minute to consider each person. Think about how the change affects their lives. This will help you to manage and communicate the change more sensitively and effectively.