Leading change requires boosting employee resilience | Gagen MacDonald

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Leading change requires boosting employee resilience

Sep 26, 2017

All employees fear sudden change. Yet large organizations announce disruptions to strategies, structures, and processes with increasing frequency to stay competitive in an environment of blurring industry boundaries and digital invaders. What's more, there is an ongoing evolution in job skills as companies reshape roles to meet new business demands. The result: a rising unpredictability in today’s workplace.

In this environment of rapid transformation, businesses should consider two critical questions. First, how are both leaders and employees coping? And second, what elements help to steady them during times of instability?

How someone manages through change is an individual journey. Our change momentum curve below reveals the range of emotions people often experience. Repeated iterations of change can cause emotions to swing with even larger rises and falls, so it’s not at all unusual for some to feel enthusiastic and energized about new possibilities, while others experience the extreme negativity associated with change fatigue.

Fortunately, there’s a silver lining to this turbulent business climate. We’re seeing a growing number of organizations design thoughtful approaches to boost resilience in both leaders and frontline employees. Here are a few ways our clients are infusing energy back into their workforces:

Mobilize line managers as your advance team.

Helping employees maintain a positive outlook while they’re in a state of flux requires change leadership expertise. This is the ability to tell the company’s compelling change story authentically and transparently, to be open to candid and honest dialogue, to exhibit and reinforce desired behaviors, and to follow an intentional road map. Line managers should be inspired and equipped with the tools to excel in these areas, and get sufficient time to stress-test the changes before communicating to employees.

Put change into context.

All businesses navigate change, but employees (and even some leaders) may not realize this. Line managers should provide the perspective that other organizations face similar struggles, and acknowledge when change is happening and that it can be difficult to grapple with. They also need to remind employees why change needs to happen.

Create visually driven communications.

Graphics engage people’s imaginations and heighten their creative thinking. Visual models that clearly and easily explain change can more successfully inspire the hearts and minds of employees and leaders alike, and motivate others to action.

Reinforce change through experiences.

Identify “defining moments”—things organizations must get right to deliver the change effectively. Change is a lived experience, which day-to-day workplace rhythms can reinforce or contradict.

Create opportunities for dialogue.

People can feel isolated when experiencing change. Provide employees occasions to gather as a small group to talk about change safely. Then, empower people to make change their own by defining how they will contribute.

Provide an off-ramp when needed.

When experiencing change, employees may require space to recharge. This is highly individualized, so managers must determine what’s best—whether it involves offering time off, a sabbatical, or a reassignment.

Celebrate successes.

Organizational resources are often deployed at the beginning of the change cycle. But when planning for change, leaders should build in opportunities to acknowledge interim achievements and milestones. Instituting an awards ceremony or recognition program demonstrates appreciation for employees’ efforts and connects these successes with larger change journey goals.

These resilience-boosting strategies are not one-time quick fixes, but rather sustained efforts to improve the experience for all employees during times of sudden change. Leaders play an extremely valuable role in propelling their organizations through unpredictable times into growth and results, making changes feel achievable, and ultimately inspiring. In our client work, leaders are most successful as change agents when armed with what we call the “three things that change everything”: a compelling story, unified change leadership skills, and an intentional road map.

We must also recognize that employees and leaders alike need their own personal strategies to cope with the reality of change. In an upcoming blog post, we’ll explore behaviors that, when practiced over time, can strengthen resilience and improve an individual’s change journey.

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