How to Effectively Lead People Through Change

When an organization is going through change, its people must be supported, developed and coached through the process. When my client Dan contacted me, big changes were on the way for his company, including his department of 250 people and nine direct reports.

There were going to be two big differences for Dan’s team: First, many people would be in a managerial role that had never been managers before. Second, many of the current managers’ roles and responsibilities would be changing considerably.

Dan was completely on board with the initiative, but many on his team were not. He saw the resistance building up and wondered, how could he lead them through this experience in a positive way? How could he keep things simple through a time when they had so much to deal with?

I introduced Dan to the following key accountability leadership principles for leading people through times of change:

1. Empathize (don’t sympathize) – Your people may be experiencing a lot of anxiety. In my client’s situation, for example, his new managers were worried about their capability for their new roles, so he assured them that there would be extra training to get them up to speed. That really showed them that he cared. While sympathy just enables people to stay stuck, empathy puts them at ease so they can move forward.

2. Be patient (don’t tap your toes) – As a leader, you may have already embraced this change. If you expect your people to have the same mindset, it will be like you’re speaking two different languages. Show patience for where they’re at. Watch your body language for these signals of impatience you may not realize you’re sending: rolling your eyes, not looking someone in the eye, swinging your leg or tapping your foot.

3. Ask, ask, ask (don’t tell, tell, tell) – While you’re giving people time to catch up with you and your vision, ask them to tell you more about their concerns. You’ll get clues for how to present the benefits of the change in a way that addresses exactly what they’re thinking about. My client could have said to his new managers, “Here’s what I want you to do – just suck it up and do it!” Instead, he asked them, “How are you feeling about your new role?” and “What concerns do you have?” If you try to guess what people are thinking, it’s going to result in confusion and chaos – the direct opposite of the clarity and calm that you want. That’s why it’s so important to ask, ask, ask.

4. Enroll (don’t sell) – It doesn’t matter how convinced you are that this change will benefit the company and your people. Right now, they may only be able to see the negativity of the change itself. Instead of pushing your viewpoint onto them and trying to sell them on it, you must attract people to the opportunities that are here.

5. Keep (or don’t keep) – People may consider leaving the organization if they don’t want to embrace the change. In some cases, this may be the right thing for someone who wasn’t a good fit for your team. On the other hand, if there are people you sincerely want to keep, make that clear. Follow the above suggestions to practice empathy, patience, questioning and enrollment to ensure they remain a part of your team.

6. Do all that you can and then let go (don’t force it) – The final and most important principle of effective leadership is that once you’ve applied all the other suggestions, you’ve done the best you could and you’ve got to let go of the results. You have no control over what people choose to do with what you’ve given them.

By developing a higher level of conscious awareness of these thoughts, habits and techniques, you can not only lead people effectively through change, you can also:

● Support and develop your people, leading to improved productivity and job satisfaction

● Decrease stress in the workplace, leading to a calmer atmosphere and less turnover

● Increase accountability and follow through, leading to a better bottom line