To prevent constant change from taking a toll on your team start with empathy and inclusive conversation
“It’s not that my team’s resistant to change. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It seems like all we’ve been doing for the past few years is dealing with change at work. And it’s not that this next change is bad, I think it’s the right thing to do. But I’m tired. My team is tired. I’m just not sure how to rally them through another major change.
What should I do? How can I help them deal with yet another change at work?” #AskingForAFriend
We’ve been fielding this and other questions about dealing with constant change at work in nearly every leadership development program we teach.
7 Ways to Help Your Team Through Constant Change at Work
If you and your team are tired from all the changes, even the good ones, you’re in good company.
Even good change requires adjusting. Here are a few tips that can help.
1. Start with empathy and authentic conversation
If your team feels like they’re stuck in a vortex of constant change, the worst thing you can do is to show up with toxic positivity and a shiny sales pitch. Give your team time to talk about what’s on their hearts and minds and acknowledge their emotions.
You could say something like, “I know there’s been a lot of change at work this year. How are you feeling about the latest announcement?”
Or, I know you put a lot of work into getting your team collaborating. This reorganization will likely mean you’ll lose some of those players and get some new ones. How are you are feeling about that? How’s the team doing? What can I do to be most helpful to you and the team?
And it’s okay to show up authentic too (just avoid coming across as complaining or blaming).
You could say something like, “I know this is a lot of change in one year. I’m feeling the pressure of all the pivots too. Quite frankly it’s a lot. But I believe in us and I know we can figure our way through this change, just like we did the others.”
2. Create clarity
Change can be scary because it comes with so many unknowns. If resilience reserves are low, it can be particularly hard to rally toward an unclear future. When your team has faced a constant barrage of change at work, create as much clarity as possible.
If the next big change comes with a sidedish of uncertainty, be candid about what you know and what you don’t know yet.
Narrowing the timeframe can help here too. You might say, “I don’t know exactly how the next six months are going to play out. But, here’s what we need to accomplish this week.
This article offers some really practical clarity tools and techniques.
3. Be honest about the benefits (for everyone)
The notion that all that employees care about is WIIFM—what’s in it for me?—is just not true.
Of course, employees want to know what’s in it for them. Most people ALSO want to know what’s in it for you, for their coworkers, and for their customers.
I’ve seen so many managers lose credibility in an attempt to spin a “what’s in to for you” story without disclosing the real reasons behind the change.
It’s not enough to be clear about the “What?” – they’ve got to know the “Why?” behind what’s changing as well.
In the absence of information about a change at work, people often jump to the worst-case conclusion. They fill in the blanks with assumptions about why you’re not telling them the truth (e.g., “they must be getting ready to do layoff).
4. Think it through
If your team has faced a bunch of change-at-work, do your best to think through the change before implementation. Sometimes too much change at work is a symptom of under planning.
Don’t advocate for an idea or change that’s half-baked or full of flaws. If an idea is half-baked, have the managerial courage to speak up and share your concerns.
If possible, test it first with a small group, take their feedback seriously, and get it right.
It’s tough to regain credibility. “Oh yeah, I admit this idea, process, or change stank before, but now it’s better,” only leaves people wondering why some bozo made a choice to sing praises for an idea, system, or process that was full of problems.
Even if it looks great on paper, your boss is sold, and it worked well in the IT war room, field test the change first.
Yes, this takes time. Go slow to go fast.
Take the risk of making some waves to make it easy for your team. You might be slower out of the gate than others, but when you get it right and everyone owns it, you’ll sustain your results and be ready for the next change.
5. Establish easy-to-access listening posts
This is perhaps the most important part. Really listen to what your people tell you. Respond to feedback with solutions, not selling. When you fix something, communicate it back using the 5×5 method – 5 times, 5 different ways.
Ask, “How can we address this concern and still make the change serve its purpose?”
6. Leverage reluctant testimony
Share as many testimonials as you can, especially from people who were doubtful (or the most tired) at first.
Have team members share how your new idea, system, or process changed their work for the better.
Your most influential stories will come from those who were least likely to value the change: the sales guy who never bothered with this stuff before, the new rep who’s now running circles around her seasoned co-workers because she uses the new system, the supervisor who got his entire team (including the union steward) to understand why this change is so much better for customers.
7. Involve the team in key decisions
No one wants stuff done to them, or even for them. With them goes a lot further. Ask employees, “what’s working well and how do we leverage it? What enhancements do we need? Where should we head next?” All these questions go a long way. Include employees by involving them in your change efforts.
The best way to truly support your team through constant change at work is to show up empathetic and authentic, interested, and supportive.
What are your best practices for helping your exhausted team deal with yet another change at work?
How to Change Your Mind: Without Losing Their Trust and Support
How to Lead When Your Team is Exhausted
Great article Ms. Hurt! My team consists of individuals with decades of experience to those with only a couple of years. Similar to #6, I often communicate a change by pointing out the similarities of a previous situation and then ask the tenured members to recall their thoughts and feelings of that change. Their feedback helps to put the current change into a perspective that helps the whole team reduce the anxiety and sometimes it produces the framework for a process the team can follow to execute the change successfully.
Thanks so much Allen! I really appreciate you expanding the conversation… love that approach!
Great approach Allen – helps reduce that feeling of unfamiliarity for those who dislike it or feel anxious about the way forward.
Great article! #7 really resonated with me because I always appreciated being included in big decisions for my company. This is definitely something I want to practice in my future leadership roles.
Thanks so much, Cassandra.
This article really hit home with me. I lead a group of physicians and we have been bombarded with nothing but change over the past 2 years. I agree that allowing the team to participate in the decision process helps the team to embrace changes better. I have found it to be difficult dealing with the many uncertainties, however, I just try to be open and forth coming with the information I do have.
Thanks so much, Kendreia. Leading in healthcare at this moment….. thank you for all you are doing to encourage courage during this challenging time. As you say, transparency is so vital. Thank you for expanding the conversation! You might also find this article helpful https://letsgrowleaders.com/2014/09/17/7-ways-to-help-your-team-deal-with-ambiguity/
Kendreia, I can only imagine what you’ve been through – and thank you for leading through it. That openness you mention is so vital.