“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus
My friends, we are in a time of robust change. That horse is out of the barn. That train has left the station. That ship has sailed. You can’t escape change. What you can do is learn to embrace it and help those around you to do the same. Most people naturally react to change first in terms of how it affects the self – how change impacts their status quo. Some are able to step out of this self-centered focus, understand the broader impacts, and recognize opportunities to guide others in finding clarity, confidence, commitment, and calm. Leaders need to cultivate this ability within themselves in order for their teams to survive – and thrive – in the face of turbulence. It is hard to stay clear-headed and focused while the landscape around you bucks and recedes. It is even harder when you are responsible not only for yourself, but for the productivity and climate of a team where that same challenge becomes multiplied.
Human nature is to resist change. In organizations, it is readily apparent how change causes disruption, distraction and even disengagement. The net effect on business productivity and profit is real. If change is a constant, we need, as leaders, to help our people to embrace the new and unfamiliar – and even uncertain. We need to help our teams continue to conduct and focus on normal, critical functions even if/while they are surrounded by chaos. Here are five key things you need to focus on as a leader to shift from a culture of change resistance to a culture of calm:
1. Communication – In the absence of information, the mind makes up whatever it needs to fill the gap – and it’s rarely good. When people don’t know what they are a part of and how they fit in, it’s easy for them to withdraw and disconnect. Be clear on what is certain and what still needs to be answered or decided. Help employees understand what is happening and why, and how they figure in to the equation.
2. Community – In chaos and uncertainty, people commonly worry about how they are affected individually; they become self-focused which creates disengagement and alienation. Help keep connections alive by bringing people together to relate, share, have fun, and remind them that they are part of a bigger whole.
3. Control – The hardest part of change is feeling like you don’t have control over the situation. In a September 2012 blog post on HBR, Rosabeth Moss Kanter cites this as the number one reason why people resist change. In times of change, we feel a loss of control over our own security. Help your people spot opportunities to maintain a sense of control – taking on a new project, learning a new skill, supporting a colleague – and you will help ease some of that tension.
4. Climate – The one thing you can always control is yourself – your thoughts and reactions, how you show up, how you engage, and the energy you impart to others. An organizational climate of uncertainty and anxiety creates distracting noise and is counterproductive, oftentimes when productivity is critical. Practice self-awareness in the climate you set for yourself and your team, and others in your sphere of influence. Make it constructive, not destructive. Set the example and encourage others to do the same.
5. Compassion – One thing about change is certain – it affects everyone, whether directly or indirectly. A great tool in leading others through change is compassion. By understanding and exercising empathy toward those around you, you show caring. I know, this just got too fuzzy for some of you. Stay with me, though, I won’t make this long. I suggest that most of us are motivated to perform at our best when we are managed or led by someone who we feel cares about our future and our happiness. This is a critical skill for leaders to embrace as our workforce continues to evolve. Check out points 2, 3, and 4 of this March post on Forbes.com, if you think I’m crazy. It may be considered a soft skill but mastering compassion as a business skill will pay off for years to come – in and out of change.
Change is often seen in a negative light, particularly in the current market where companies and their employees have been through a high amount of it in the past few years. Given that change is inherent in business, those leaders who are able to turn the negative into an opportunity – to re-form camaraderie, creativity, and commitment – will find themselves before long in a culture of calm, and that will help pave the way for success through change.
Which of these factors has most benefited your team in a time of change ? Share in the comments below.