I've seen it too often, I've been in conversation and heard it too often, I've read about it too often.
Companies underestimate the impact of change.
Underestimation occurs especially when it comes to the people, the power of the people, the value of the people, the necessity of the people to stand behind and for the change. This underestimation leads to damages that are hard to recover from; dare I even say impossible.
When change is coming down the pipe, change management becomes, too often, an afterthought, rather than it being an insanely detailed strategic plan. And by insanely detailed I mean INSANELY DETAILED. Down to every person in the company and how they will be:
- communicated to
- cared for
It's just 2 little things. And yet it seems so hard to get these 2 things right. Why is that?
I don't know. I've never been the CEO or President or Owner of a company with employees.
But this isn't a post about what the CEOs are doing wrong. This is a post about emotional intelligence and what happens to people during change. And this is what I do know.
Trust, once lost, is difficult to repair. Change imparts a level of ambiguity that it becomes necessary to create a change management strategy that minimizes as much ambiguity as possible to maintain as much trust as possible.
Ambiguity (not knowing what's going on) impacts individuals in a number of ways related directly to emotional intelligence:
2. Stress management/optimism
3. Interpersonal relationships/empathy
What's in it for me (WIIFM)?
When you want me to be on board, you need to be able to tell me the benefits (pros) and the losses (cons) of the change that is occurring. By allowing information to flow freely in this arena, my self-regard, or my self-esteem, stays in tack. Why? Because knowledge provides a framework to keep storytelling at bay. When left to my own storytelling, my life experiences will colour the types of stories I tell. I may tell blame and shame stories. I may tell villian and victim stories. And storytelling is always damaging to the self because it often errs on the side of protecting oneself from rejection. This also has a tendency to chip away at people's self-esteem. And when I'm feeling down on myself, and my emotional intelligence is unbalanced and under-developed, I'm more likely, as your employee, to not get on board with change, to become distrusting in everyone, and to bring my less-than self to work.
Throughout change management, it is necessary to arm people with the skills to maintain a healthy level of self-regard/self-esteem so they continue to show up to work as their best.
1. Be clear on WIIFM. Outline the pros and cons of the changes.
2. Have each employee list out their strengths and weaknesses as related to the changes.
3. With each employee work through their specific plan to leverage their strengths and close any weakness gaps. Do they need training, mentoring, counselling?
4. Set the specific plans in motion ensuring that each individual is held accountable to their own success by checking in frequently (daily, even multiple times per day).
5. Catch setbacks immediately and address them with safety first. You're catching people doing things right and helping them work through the setbacks!
Your employees ability to be hopeful for the future, to see the opportunities and know that everything will work out in the end, is pivotal to success throughout change management. Optimism is a key factor to stress management. And if employees are managing my stress well, they are likely feeling good about themselves (self-esteem!).
Stress is often amplified with lack of information and lack of direction. Even in the face of ambiguity, information and direction can be coming. Or...'coming soon'. Always provide as much transparency as possible and always provide the next round of information as soon as possible. Great managers are free flowing with information and direction. "As soon as I know, you will know." Help to manage stress and maintain a healthy level of optimism by using the following techniques.
1. Engage in team D-D-D's. This stands for debate, dispute, and discard. For each 'concern' as related to change management, collective debate, dispute, and discard. Debate by asking 'where's the evidence or proof'. Dispute self-sabotaging storytelling or catastrophies based on the past. Discard words like never or always or must or should and replace with 'prefer or perhaps or hope or alternatively.'
2. Schedule in team worry breaks. Daily time to focus on the positivity of now. What's going on now that is raising us as a team? What successes have occurred today toward leveraging our strengths and closing gaps in our weaknesses? How are we preparing for success and winning?
3. Purposeful distraction. Give everyone tasks that are purposeful, useful, and important. There's nothing more powerful that meaningful work to keep your mind from wandering to fairytales.
4. Good old fashioned stress relief from:
- daily exercise
- breathing exercises
- proper sleep
- proper nutrition
5. Open door policy. During times of change, keep your door open and make sure all of your employees know it. Hold yourself accountable as the manager to drop everything when an employee is reaching a breaking point and in need of your ear. Make sure that every meeting/discussion ends with focus on the positive. Never leave any discussion with the negative lingering.
If you loose your cool with your people, you're not helping. And you're not going to win together. The last thing you want to have happen during the winds of change, are broken relationships.
Acknowledgement that change is difficult, and also different for everyone, is important. No one persons feelings are any more or less important than another's. No one persons response to change is more right or more wrong than another's.
Share the change management curve with each individual and check in as to where they are - for real. Then collaboratively discuss the necessary steps to move through that stage and into the next.
You cannot hide from the emotions that arise during change management. In fact, as the manager, you need to be paying very close attention. And so do the members of your team; paying close attention to each other.
Here's how to amplify relationships and empathy during change:
1. Ask everyone, every day, how they are doing and be specific when you ask. "How are you doing?" can lead to answers including "fine". If you get a 'fine' ask for clarification on what that means. Then really listen to their responses. When they start to roll their eyes at you for not wanting to be asked anymore, remind them how important they are to you and that you're asking because you care about them. If they need you to lay off from the daily check in, ask for the frequency that suits them best.
2. Be real with your own feelings since, as the manager, you're going through the change as well. This is the perfect time to express your own emotions as they align with your people's emotions. This type of connection is so valuable, especially when you also share what you are doing to maintain your optimism, self-regard, self-esteem, and stress.
3. Partner people strategically through change. Individuals that fester (bad apples, Debbie Downers) need to be partnered with strongly optimistic people. This will avoid catastrophic plummeting into the spiral of negativity. Those that are further along the change management curve can help others to also move along.
This is a great opportunity for all of us to look inward during change, before we look outward. To work on ourselves first, anchor our self-esteem, optimism, and stress management skills so that we can help others to also be successful. So that trust is maintained. So that change is something we can flourish and grow through.