Before we can discuss how to manage your employees through change, it’s important to understand how people psychologically process change. Employees experience different emotions as they move through this transition process. Employees will transition from feeling a sense of loss, to feeling some confusion, then finally — with your support and change leadership — feeling a sense of acceptance and commitment.
We break this process down into three steps: Endings, Transition, and New Beginnings.
Last, employees who receive proper support from their leaders will reach New Beginnings. In this phase, employees are fully committed to and accept the change.
Change is a process. Although the change event itself may happen in an instant, the transition happens over time. Adjusting to change starts with a mindset shift, then a behavior shift, and finally, a system and routine shift.
System and Routine Shift: When new operating models / systems, ways of working, and processes are all formalized and employees begin to operate in the “new normal.”
Understanding how change transitions work and how employees emotionally process change allows leaders to provide the support their teams need during critical times in their organizations. Next, we’ll discuss how you can best support, manage, and lead your people through work transformations.
Your first steps as a leader are to identify what stage of the transition your employees are in and alter your leadership style to fit their needs, identify the behaviors that need to change, reinforce these behavior changes as you see them, and communicate openly with your team as the transition takes place.
Not every employee or team will move through these phases at the same pace. Some may have already reached a feeling of commitment or acceptance, while others may still be wrestling with the feeling of loss and are working through the mindset shift.
So, how can you identify which phase of the change your employee is in? Listen carefully to what they are saying. While it will vary based on the change your organization is undergoing, here are some examples of language that can reveal what phase of the change your employee is currently in:
As a leader, your responsibility in times of change is to model the change behaviors your employees should display moving forward. That starts with pinpointing the behaviors that need to change and reinforcing these behavior changes as you see them.
As employees first come to terms with change, their feelings of loss can stand in the way of accepting the change with the right behaviors. Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can use to demonstrate desired behaviors and start holding individuals to those expectations:
Again, you should think about how to best move people toward a new change behavior and mindset by meeting them where they are in their change journey. For instance, employees who are at the start of their change journey benefit from leaders who coach them toward new behaviors by asking them the right questions. What are you holding on to, and what should you let go of? What are you scared of losing, and what do you stand to gain?
Once you can map out where your employees are in their change acceptance journey, you can craft strategic communications that unify your people and resonate with their feelings. Clear communication is a vehicle for establishing a Deep Trust and High Expectations™ culture among you and your employees — it answers their questions, acknowledges their concerns, and assures them of the plan moving forward.
Leaders should keep the following in mind to effectively communicate through change:
Leading with empathy is key to guiding your employees, fellow leaders, and entire organization through critical turnpoints in your business, and it connects the emotional journey your employees are navigating to the outcomes you are driving toward.
Here are a few actions you can take to demonstrate empathetic leadership:
As a leader, it’s important to be aware of how your employees are truly feeling during times of transition in order to effectively support them and lead them through the change. By having a clear vision of where your employees are emotionally in their change journey, you’ll be better situated to help them reach New Beginnings and come to work with the mindsets, behaviors, and systems that are necessary to propel your organization forward.
If you’re embarking on your next organizational shift or are grappling with the effects of a recent change initiative, we have the tools to help your team manage uncertainty and unify them toward a new direction. Our Navigating Change Workshop provides managers, groups of individuals, and intact teams with an in-depth look into how organizational change works and how to empower teams for success.
Still have questions? Get in touch with our team.
(Based on the William Bridges Transition Model)