Your organization is starting a major restructure, and you must break the news to your team—particularly those who will see major changes or whose position will be terminated. How will you help navigate these changes, keep morale up, and reduce impacts on productivity to successfully manage these changes? Change management does not always come naturally but it can be learned. It is critical to being a successful manager and leader.
Good change management skills are not optional. Coping with frequent changes is essential. Although change is stressful, it also provides opportunities. Leadership must embrace change management because things today might be different tomorrow. Managers must be forward-thinking and adopt a positive attitude sending a message to staff members, who in turn will be more open to change.
Learning the ropes
Find a mentor who has been with several organizations and has seen major changes. Professional associations offer education and networking. Consider which professional associations based on your level of experience, your current role, and what you would like to do in the future. Attend conferences and events to seek out leadership sessions. Finally, consider taking formal classes through your local university.
The key is taking that first step. Do not hold back because you feel you should know how to manage change. Find experts with experience you can take back to your organization.
Change management does not call for one skill: it is about strategically deploying a suite of skills and, communication is essential. Having difficult conversations and delivering difficult messages is a major part of successfully managing change. Strong project management skills will also help. Staying organized, focused, and delegating tasks will keep you and your department on track.
Finally, lift up your staff. Make sure they feel appreciated. If staff feel their work and concerns are ignored, they may become discouraged, leading some to look for a new job.
Change does not wait until you are ready for it. You may have questions and doubts. These concerns can be especially difficult if your department is given additional work, or you must reduce staff. Stay focused and committed to carrying out the organization’s mission. You may not agree with everything, but as a leader you must support it.
A united front is critical to an organization’s success. It can be appropriate to express your concerns behind closed doors to your supervisor. Although it is often difficult, managing emotions and the discomfort of change is expected of a leader. There is another reason to manage your emotions. They use your behavior as a barometer. If you appear shaken, that will influence their attitude toward the change and how it will affect them. They could lose confidence in you and, the organization. They will feel stressed and discouraged. Some may even take your negative attitude as a cue that it is time to leave the organization. Model the behavior you want to see in your staff. Show them you are confident, resilient, and consistent. They will be, too.
Supporting change is not an act: you must believe in it. You may be asked to make choices that could make you unpopular. You may lose your best staff. You could find yourself putting in extra work. Do you believe the long-term benefits of the change will outweigh these problems? Can you confidently support the organization and deliver its message? The answer is not always yes. Perhaps there has been too much change and you no longer feel you can support it. Your role may have evolved and does not align with your career goals. It may be time for you to move on, and that is okay.
Initiating change is not limited to leadership. Staff members are embedded in the day-to-day work and often have keen insights into what does not work and what could be done better. Getting exposed to and comfortable with change management can help you gain the confidence to suggest changes and be instrumental in effectuating them.
Stacey McCreery is the president and chief administrative officer of ROI Search Group, an executive search and leadership consulting firm. She is a contributor on various human resource topics.