Lead Change Like a Strategic Champion: Part 2

Rigorous preparation is essential. It goes without saying that organizational change can destabilize a person, a team and an organization. Here are three approaches that I recommend, to create a smoother path forward:

1. Build your team now, before the change is implemented. Teams that routinely operate with less trust may be more negatively impacted by further destabilization. Take the time to ensure that your team’s foundation is verifiably stable. In practice, this means that vulnerability-based trust is well established, conflicts are occurring in service of your common goal during meetings, accountability levels are high and definitively clear, and commitments are consistently and transparently kept. As a leader, you should be able to report your team’s results with fairly reliable progressive upticks toward your objectives. These capabilities will enable you and your team to take the challenges of the change process on with a much greater likelihood for success.

2. Find out what benefits matter to your employees by asking and listening. Do this by appointing especially dedicated employees to champion the change, and gather the information. For example, identify a therapist or nurse whose strength is to offer benevolent operational oversight. Then, introduce and communicate a combination of your employees perceived benefits. For example, offer the reassurance that “while we’ll be undertaking new processes or modes of service delivery, you will have all the support you need from your existing social network to be successful.”

3. Respect employees’ social relationships when designing structural changes! Identify and use existing social networks when designing future organizational structures, and to communicate your change efforts. Employees find strength and support from each other, which is especially critical during time of stress. Breaking these social bonds may increase resistance, and possibly invite sabotage.

Next, Anticipate Resistance

There have been many publications that address the cause of employee resistance during organizational change. One thing is clear: it will happen. Regardless of the cause, we can be proactive in reducing resistance while increasing the probability for success in the long term. Here’s how to prepare for less resistance:

1. Create emotional safety. It all boils down to safety. People want to know that they will still have a job, and that their friends at work will still be there during the change process. The perceived threat of the change is softened, knowing that the job security and emotional safety will remain in place.

2. Communicate clearly. Disseminate information about the reasons and process for change in transparent, clear and consistent terms. Communicating clearly creates a level of continuity that helps diminish the experience of perceived threat. Provide information early and often during the process, and ensure mutual understanding by actively listening to the concerns raised. Show your employees in very clear terms that you hear them, with actions that are congruent with their requests.

3. Get everyone involved. Actively involving everyone in the change process also tends to reduce fear and increase positive feelings. Empowering people to champion the change by owning operational areas about which they are passionate is critical to maintain a high level of participation. Allow people to use their strengths to facilitate the change in a specific operational area by listening. Participation amplifies success and reduces resistance.

4. Reinforce your team’s self-esteem. Studies showed that when employees perceived themselves to be competent and valuable to their organization, the concept of Organizational Based Self Esteem (OBSE) kicked in. OBSE had greater impact on one’s response than the perceived benefits.[1]

Finally, remember the obvious – change is challenging. Lean into the discomfort of the change process, and allow people to air their concerns. Resistance is an opportunity for us to expand our capacity to meet people where they are, and model the behaviors we wish to see by example. Showing your commitment to the process, while validating your employees and remaining transparent about your own experience of the challenges, will provide everyone with greater access to the strength, humility and resilience required to sustain the change successfully.

[1] (Packard, 2015)