Change Management Guidelines for Leaders

July 7, 2014

I recently reflected back on a time in my career when I spent 7 years travelling across Canada and the US speaking to employees and leaders on how to navigate change and transformation. My belief in traditional change management theories shifted  8 years ago on a cold day in January. I met an intact team that had worked together and sacrificed themselves and their families for their corporation during the 911 crisis.  That one colossal experience defined their lives and careers, and created a strong bond between the team.

At the time I met the team their company was going through a complete transformation and some of the team would be leaving the company while others were changing positions. They accepted the business decision but felt confused, betrayed, and disregarded by the  leadership team. In the past the leadership team recognized their contributions both in public and private. However; since the announcement members of the leadership team would pass these loyal employees in the halls without acknowledging them or the change that was about to take place. 

It was then that I came to the realization that you can not create collective engagement during a time of transformation with silence or a “get on board or your not part of the team” attitude. Nor will a blanket “one size” fits all approach result in true engagement. During a time of change you need to recognize that true change happens one employee at a time. To create collective engagement during times of change, employees have to feel they are working for an organization that promotes transparency, empowerment, collaboration, and offers  space for open dialogue. Leaders sometimes forget that many employees are also emotionally invested in the company they work for.

It is understood and accepted that employees are not part of the business decision; however;  at some point employees need to be considered and recognized in the process.  Instead many organizations make the decision and announcement with the expectation that everyone should be on-board.  Many times leaders are so far ahead of the thinking around change that is going to take place that they forget there is a lag time between their acceptance and the acceptance of the employee population.

The following are some simple and practical rules every leader needs to follow regardless how small or big the change:

  • Leaders, take a deep breathe and let the employees' emotions run their course. A small amount of patience and understanding goes along way.
  • Leaders need to take the time to craft the message carefully and check to ensure that each member of the  leadership team that is delivering the message is consistent in their own understanding of the message.  If each member is not clear you risk confusion and misunderstanding when the message is delivered.                                     
  • Leaders need to be visible and check in with vital members of the team to ensure they are not feeling marginalized by the process and the decisions being made.
  • Leaders need to communicate with transparency. Don't sugar coat, hide, or delay information because you feel uncomfortable – good or bad news – people want it straight up.
  • If you want to check the pulse of your people get out of your office and into the trenches. Ask questions to ensure understanding; do you have any additional questions, did you understand the e-mail that was sent out, how did you feel about the President’s note, would you like to chat further about this and how if effects your career?
  • Stop talking and listen. If you are speaking more than 30% of the time you are not listening. I am always amazed at how much people will share if you ask the right questions and just listen to the answers without interruption.
  • Create clarity around the company vision for the future and link to team and individual objectives – giving everyone an understanding of their own role and the value it adds to the future and current state of the business gives employees focus.
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