As a leader, it’s your job to help employees navigate times of uncertainty and change. While changes are often external events — such as mergers, re-orgs, and culture transformations — changes spark an internal process for employees that is both emotional and psychological. As a leader, you can’t control how your team will react to the change, but you can learn to recognize how your employees are feeling about the transition — and how you can best support them through it.
Employees experience different emotions as they move through this transition process. Employees will transition from feeling a sense of loss, to feeling some confusion, but with your support as a leader, can come to a feeling of acceptance and commitment.
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.
Mindset Shift: When employees first hear about the change and begin to wrap their heads around what they might have to give up and what their “new normal”
Behavior Shift: When employees begin to take steps toward the “new normal” and make a conscious effort to develop behaviors that will support this
System and Routine Shift: When new operating models and systems, ways of working, and processes are all formalized and employees begin to operate in the “new normal”
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.
Your role as a leader is to identify what stage of the transition your employees are in, 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.
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, 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.
(Based on the Willam Bridges Transition Model)