Manage Well Through a Big Change

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Most people expect and roll with the little changes that happen every day in business. But managing through the stress of a big change — when emotions are high, rumors are flying and morale is sagging — can be tricky.

Let’s take the publishing industry as an example. It’s one that’s seen tremendous change in the past 10 to 20 years. First, technology altered printing processes. Then, environmental concerns led to paper usage reductions and availability issues. A slow economy sent advertising sales into a nosedive. And finally, electronic technology has effectively eliminated demand for the hard-copy versions of many publications.

From new, disruptive innovation to a volatile economy to a buyout … change can have a huge impact on people and the organizations they work for. And if you’re a manager in a situation like this, you can’t help but feel anxious yourself. But your job demands skill in negotiating this rough water.

Change forces people outside their comfort zones. So, first it’s important to remember that discomfort is normal. The amount each employee feels and how fast they adapt will vary. These variations aren’t necessarily an indication of the person’s willingness to change … just individual differences in their comfort with risk.  

By looking at change openly and honestly (and encouraging those around you to do the same), you can begin to deal with it from a rational viewpoint rather than an emotional, stress-filled one. Here are a few considerations to help you carefully plan and deliver the news (and deal with the fallout):

  1. Communicate what, why and how. Be honest, positive and clear. Build urgency (without causing fear) into your explanation (explain how a competitor has been outperforming you or how profits are down). Is there a timeline? How will the change be implemented and how will it help the organization? Also include details on how an individual might benefit.
  2. Acknowledge employees’ good work under the previous system.
  3. Talk about challenges the change will cause.
  4. Explain how employees’ responsibilities will be affected.
  5. Keep people updated throughout the process to keep rumors at bay. Have a system in place to answer employees’ questions as they arise.
  6. Listen to people’s concerns without judging.
  7. Respond in a way that fits the person. (Some people will be more resistant.)
  8. Offer training to help prepare for shifting job duties … and to ease fears.
  9. Be patient.
  10. Together with individual employees, set new, measurable goals. Post them if possible.

When something familiar is being changed, it triggers anxiety. Expect varying levels of emotion. Stay positive, and try to find the benefits for both the organization and the people. Chart a new course and communicate well and often.

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.