HOW TO LEAD DURING DIFFICULT CHANGE
Focusing on feelings, facts, and future will help you meaningfully lead through the difficult change.
The COVID-19 pandemic brings some changes in the global marketplace that maybe still adapt in the future. Unemployment, work from home, being very engage to digital platforms, and business closures have left in their wake a workforce fraught with uncertainty.
The challenge for you as a business leader is that everyone reacts differently to the changes. Some of us get hung up on the ending, looking back, wishing for the past, wondering why things must change (late adapters to change). Some of us approach the difficult change with hesitation, unsure of how to proceed and uncertain of the possibilities (undecided about change). And some of us embrace change and get excited about the prospects of a positive future (early adapters to change).
Of course, it’s never quite this simple. We all move from phase to phase at different times because of who we are, our past experiences, how we view work, and how significant the change is to us personally.
As the person your team members will turn to for guidance and advice, focusing on the “Three F’s”—feelings, facts, and future—will help you meaningfully lead through the difficult change.
Helping your team members process their feelings during the initial “ending” phase sets the tone for the entire change process. As a leader, you should expect and acknowledge a mix of emotions depending on the circumstances. Your biggest mistake would be ignoring or minimizing the feelings of your team.
Instead, lead by openly discussing what is going on. Asking questions like “how are you feeling about all this?” sets the example that you’re there to help your people get through this time, showing that you care about both them and the company.
When you understand the emotions that are most prevalent and relevant for each team member, like surprise, resistance, anger, sadness, fear, optimism, or relief, it makes it easier for you to provide feedback, communicate change, and deliver consistent messaging that also points out the positives of the difficult change. The end goal is to help your team members feel more in control of a situation that they had no control over.
Providing the facts of the situation is your next step in leading during the difficult change. After accepting that it’s happening, your people will begin to wonder and worry about what they’ll be doing, what is going to change for them, and how they should deal with it all. This is the middle, Neutral Zone phase, which is marked by confusion about the future. To truly support your team during this phase, your focus should be on reducing uncertainty.
Providing as much information as you can helps builds trust. A good leadership practice is scheduling brief meetings with each team member to clarify information and role requirements, discuss needs, and refocus them on achieving shared success—it’s a win-win for the individual and the organization. Explaining the specifics of why and how the difficult change is occurring, and allowing for questions, will help your team get its arms around what is going on.
What’s more, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Leaders, to their own detriment, sometimes avoid interaction and communication because they don’t know the answers to many questions about the future. It’s okay to admit that you don’t fully know things—it may even help to build your relationships. The point here is to be more available, not less—get out of your office and talk with your people. And, possibly more importantly, continue to listen, listen, and listen.
It’s your role as a leader in your organization to help build a positive future for the business and the people behind it. This makes it imperative that you help each person on your team clearly see a meaningful new beginning that they can engage in and be inspired by. Regardless of ranks, we all need something to believe in, to latch onto; we all need clear roles and career paths that meet business needs—and our own personal and professional needs.
In the new beginning phase, it’s important to continue regularly communicating the benefits of change. If you’re positive about the future—meaning you understand the positives of change, believe in them, and communicate them—your team will buy into this mentality and energy.
With an aligned and engaged team, setting expectations and short-term goals together becomes easier. To further ensure a positive future, continue practicing good leadership that builds and honors strong work processes, encourages strategic delegation, instills open communication and trust, and encourages team members to be accountable and innovative. And as you succeed together, remember to always recognize successes, even if they are small.
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