One of my clients at the moment is going through a massive change. They’re taking one of their businesses and merging it with another to create a big Australian organisation, and it’s a massive change. It’s a big thing for the leaders but it’s a big thing for everyone who serves customers, everyone that’s on the ground doing the work.
So the leaders of this business are dealing with people who are emotional they’re crying. They’re dealing with people who don’t know if they’ve got a job and they’re dealing with their own uncertainty about the future. I’ve been working a lot with them explaining what it’s like to go through change and what they can do as leaders to help people get from where they are at the moment to the bottom and out the other side.
I’m going to share those lessons with you so that you can apply it when you go through change.
First thing – let’s orientate ourselves into the territory of what happens when people go through change.
The first one is to recognise that there is a point at which the change occurs, and when the change occurs to any single individual, there’s most importantly the emotional response, but there’s also a rational element where they’re kind of emotionally going “Oh my god, my cheese has moved! What does this mean?” and “Ahhh!” but there’s also the rational response of “What does my future look like?“
Next there’s the period during which it all dips down, but the most important point for you is this point at the bottom of the curve when things start to turn around, that’s called “acceptance”… And that’s where we want to get people through.
Then ultimately on the upswing after acceptance, we’ve got the ability to paint the picture of a future.
Now let’s talk about what happens to people emotionally when a change is presented to them like “No longer will your role exist.” Or… “This business is being nationalised, so we’re going to take this from here and put it over there.”
People are confronted with the reality of that. Often what will happen is that they’ll deny that it even exists and you’ll realise they’re on the the grief curve – typically, the first step of that is to say
“Well, this won’t happen, it’s not real.”
“It’s just bureaucracy and it won’t actually play out.“
“I’ll just bide my time and see what happens.”
Other people get massively angry.
And some of them will resign at that point, and they’ll put the heat on you and they’ll ask a whole bunch of questions that you can’t answer and generally make life pretty ordinary.
When people are having these emotional reactions one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to rescue them and the framework I try and help people get to is to recognise that even in a whole lot of change, that as adults we have choice.
Your job as a leader, your job as a manager is to enable a conversation where rationally and emotionally they can make a choice about their future.
When they make a choice, funnily enough they start to get to the point where there’s acceptance, and there’s an opportunity for them to create a better future than the one they see at the moment.
So how do we get someone to a point where there’s choice?
I think there’s two things that are really important.
Rather than rescue, I would advise empathy. Rather than saying “I can solve this for you. I can fix it for you. I can promise you something that I can’t.” (Because a lot of the time you can’t!)
It’s more like… “I know this is hard for you, it’s hard for me. I’m uncertain about my job and I know you’re uncertain about yours. It sucks, right?”
That’s empathy, it’s being in their shoes where they’re at. And that helps them just accept that it’s hard.
Once you’ve been empathetic, (this is very corporate) but basically it’s about having a set of key messages that you repeat – having something to say because if you don’t have something to say, when they ask you the bunch of questions, you don’t have any response.
The key message is it’s not about sounding corporate, it’s just about saying “Look, what I know at this point is that this will happen and this will happen and I cant’ tell you any more at this point and when I know more I will.”
Once we’ve used the key messages to get them to the point that they make a choice, then the key thing at the other end is starting to build some sense of a vision of the future – but only once someone’s got to the choice and they’ve accepted that they want to be there and that they’ll come on the ride with you.
So, to summarise –
Change is hard because we all have an emotional and a rational response to it.
Things you want to avoid as a leader are rescuing people in that situation.
Use your empathy and key messages to enable someone to make a choice that’s right for them.
When they truly make a choice they’ll accept that they’re here and ultimately once they get to that acceptance point then you can work to a point of building a vision for the future that they can attach to.
Hopefully what that’s done is help you when you’re in a situation of change, either you’re going through it or someone you’re working with or for is going through it.
It can help you know how to manage yourself and how to manage the people around you.
If you’re in a team, or you’re a leader and you want help doing this for yourself – coaching help – book in a time to chat and we can see if the way I do it is right for you.
Talk to you soon. Cheers, bye.