Leading Change

By Tracy MacDonald
Dec 2020

If the past 8 months have taught us any kind of lesson, it’s that change is inevitable. Sometimes it’s beyond our control and we just need to deal with it. Sometimes we are in a position to lead change. If you’re leading change, there is a lot more to remember than just the change itself.

As leaders, we have to realize that people are emotionally attached to what they know. Any change that is implemented will affect your team, and your customers, in a way that can be thought of as “below the surface.” For example, a new organizational structure for a department may involve one, or all, of the following: new people, new roles, new goals, new technology and new processes. If we look at two of these areas, process and people, we can see both above and below the surface components.

Process improvement is a necessary part of running any kind of business. What makes sense in the beginning may need to be altered based on volume, technology, product offerings or staffing issues. People are our greatest asset and they are the ones running and working through these processes. In the end, getting a job done depends on both of these things. And as time goes on, people become attached to those with whom they interact while completing these processes. When a process changes, people may need to change those with whom they work. Relationships that have been built up over months or years may not be in play so much. If these relationships have become friendships, there could be a sense of loss. Then there is the need to build new relationships. Go a little further below the surface and if process change includes a technology that replaces a function previously performed by a person, fear of job loss or a sense of unimportance can ensue. This can cause tension among the team, apathy, and confusion.

These emotional connections and feelings all live “below the surface” of the everyday work environment but are just as prominent, if not more so, than the tactical changes brought on by change. As a leader, your job is to take care of your people. While it may be exciting to have a new software that replaces one or some of the tasks previously performed by a person, perhaps this change creates a new opportunity for the person. Does it allow for more time to plan ahead and strategize? Does it allow for an opportunity to partner with someone in another department to collaborate? Does it allow for upskilling and learning new tools or software to improve communication with others? The possibilities are endless and should tie into the future goals of your department or organization as a whole.

Share those visions with your people. Tell them you know that a process change may mean working with different people and that it’s an opportunity to build on current skills, learn new skills and collaborate with new people or new groups. And let them know you know it may be bumpy- there will wil adjustments and a learning curve. Show empathy and be patient yet firm. Acknowledge the emotional attachment to the old way and also support for future opportunities.

As leaders, we have vision, we develop strategy, and we implement change. We also take care of our people and one way to do that while implementing change is to be aware of the concerns and feelings that live beneath the surface and address them so that our people can catch up to us in the change cycle and embrace the change rather than being afraid of it.

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