5 Change Management Tips for Leaders

Posted: Aug. 11, 2021, 2 p.m.

5 Change Management Tips for Leaders

Change is inevitable in any organization. But, change initiatives generally suffer under a few common and avoidable mistakes. These five best practices can help to guide your teams and organizations through change. It’s all about learning how to; expect the unexpected, communicate just enough, foster a true learning environment, make sure your team feels heard, and make sure your initiatives stick for a long, long time. Change is inevitable, but struggle doesn't have to be. Let's dive in.

1. Know What to Expect 

Simple philosophy. It’s better to be prepared for something that doesn’t happen than not be prepared for something that does. You should be looking to anticipate roadblocks and to know what to expect. Are you and your team expecting things to go exactly according to plan? If so, that can set you up for disappointment or even worse, disaster. Instead, look for things that could potentially go awry or not fully align with the plan and put a plan in place to remove them.

Also, look for potential resistance within your team. Misalignment can contribute to a rocky transition process so it’s best to identify the people on your team who are prone to resistance and help them overcome those feelings. Sometimes, a personal one-on-one can make someone feel much more comfortable. Stakeholders can also torpedo a plan quickly. Make sure you are scheduling regular check-ins and maintaining status updates. Finally, accept that there are things out of your control and that you can't prepare for. So put in place a way for you and your team to handle these situations- communication and a solid decision-making process are key, as well as remembering to expect the unexpected! 

2. Communicate Just Enough 

Part of your plan for managing change is how you're going to communicate that change. Communication can be tricky because you don't want your team to feel overwhelmed with information and unable to determine what they're supposed to do. But you also don't want them wandering in the dark and creating their own rumors about what might be happening. 

You need to find the middle ground of information and plan it's distribution. The change communication model from Philip Clampett, Robert Koch, and Thomas Kashmin shows the sweet spot for how you should communicate about uncertainty. It's the midway between releasing all the information and withholding all the information. The sweet spot is communicating just enough- enough for employee engagement but not so much that they become overwhelmed. But also, make sure that you leave the door open for questions and concerns. Figure out how you will strike that  middle ground- the more detailed your plan, the more likely you are to become successful.

3. Allow for Mistakes and Learning 

Get used to it. With all change, you're going to face resistance, even if the change is beneficial to everybody. This resistance will be bolstered if “mistakes” are made and things don’t align exactly to the plan. Getting your team to expect mistakes and to expect the unexpected can help to reduce this type of resistance.

The second thing you should do is rebrand mistakes as an opportunity for learning rather than as a problem. Pull your teams in and say, listen, we're going to run into some things that are unexpected, but here are a few potential issues that we see. Let's put a plan in place right now for how to handle those things if and when they come up.

Finally, make it easy for people to let you know what challenges they're facing, and if possible, allow them the chance to talk amongst themselves as well. Giving them a chance to talk about issues is one of the easiest ways to find solutions, but you have to make sure the conversations are framed positively as learning and growing and not as a chance for everybody to whine and moan. Change can be difficult and people can be more difficult, so be empathetic and let the mistakes guide your next moves.

4. Give Your Team a Voice

When you're implementing a major change, you need buy-in from your team. If your team feels like they've been engaged, they feel like their voice has been heard, the chances that they'll commit to accepting the change initiative is much more likely. Even if you don't have much say in the decision itself, you can still give your team a voice in the rollout and allow them the opportunity to give feedback. Open the door for discussion. The idea here is that giving your employees a voice equates to allowing them a sense of control that is essential to feelings of self-efficacy and self-esteem. Finally, reward them for speaking up. Knowing that their opinion is appreciated and heard is huge in getting people to not only voice their concerns, but to do so in a positive solution-focused way.

5. Follow Up and Follow Through

If you don't follow up and follow through, if you don't put in place ways to make sure the change stays in place, change is not likely to be established. To counter this, I want you to build personal team and organizational habits that support the change. The first step is to make sure there are checkpoints built into your plan that ensure any habits that support the change are being followed through on. Whatever behavioral change you're wanting to see, decide how you're going to measure whether it's being done and make it clear how it's going to be checked and then make sure it gets checked. 

The other side of this falls on you, you must follow through. If you make a change, you have to stick to it. If you promise support, make sure it's there. If you ask your team to make a change, you need to make the same change. Your team is going to look to you to see if it's something they really have to do or if it's just another one of those flash in the pan occurrences, they can just wait out. Start with building habits in yourself. Use that to build the habits in your teams and the organizational habits are going to follow.

Change can be complicated and nuanced but the best way to manage it is with simple, straightforward leadership. If you are a leader in your organization, I encourage you to check out my transitional or developmental coaching programs. This six-month program focuses on adjusting to new roles, identifying strengths and areas of improvement, and building leadership skills. You can also watch my course about change management on LinkedIn Learning. My best and final piece of advice to you is to keep your team involved. Give them the tools for success and set realistic expectations. If everyone has the info they need, are prepared to learn and grow and feel like they have a voice, you'll be set up to make your change positive and long-lasting.