“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!” – Peter Senge
As a manager/supervisor and leader, you will have a role to play in managing change within your organisation. For some, this is a daunting prospect. Yet there’s no point hiding or avoiding your role – if you do, you could let down yourself, your team and potentially your organisation.
Primary influences of change responses
Understanding how people respond to change and the reasons for their responses is an important step in being a successful leader.
The way that people respond to change is often driven by three very personal factors:
- Past experiences: an individuals’ past life experiences with change will shape their thoughts, feelings and attitudes about it and the way it is managed
- Values and beliefs: personal values – and subsequent beliefs – may impact response to change depending how the change (and they way it is managed) aligns or conflicts with these values
- Capacity and capability: an individual’s approach to the change can vary depending on their capacity to be involved in the change (do they have the resources?) and their capability (do they have the skills?) to implement or cope with the change
Human reactions: transitioning with change
Individuals will experience emotions throughout the change. Some people will move very quickly from being cautious or fearful of change, through to acceptance and into excitement. Others may spend longer being fearful, may experience anger and possibly even despair – sometimes emerging from this, at other times being resistant to move beyond this.
It’s important to understand that no matter the change, it is human nature to experience an emotional response, or a series of emotions over time. Managers must accept that everyone will experience the change differently and thus they need to be prepared to respond appropriately to the emotion being demonstrated or expressed at any one time.
The way you interact with someone experiencing anger about the change will be different to interacting with someone who is excited. Your message about the change may be the same – your delivery of the message and the support of the individual will vary. Empathise, explore and engage towards solutions with evident anger, frustration or fear. Encourage, energise and engage towards opportunities with evidence of acceptance, optimism and excitement.
A manager and leader’s role at the team level
Each of your team will respond slightly differently to change, depending on how it impacts them and the influencers above.
As a manager and leader you will need to understand the individual’s within your team (personality type and typical responses to change, key motivators, ‘de-railers’). You will also need to reflect on how they have handled change in the past (if observed) and explore how they are feeling about the current changes. Be aware that their current feelings will likely vary over time as they work through the change.
With this information at hand, you will be able to prepare and act for individuals and the team:
- What communication might be appropriate – level of detail, frequency and repetition required, along with the medium or channel that you will use (face-to-face is usually the best option where possible)?
- What support may be needed – coaching, reinforced direction, engaging motivational drivers, counselling (through employee assistance programs with professional counsellors)?
- How you will handle emotions in the team, especially minimising negative impacts on each other e.g. if one person is not happy about the change and is causing unnecessary concern for others?
- How you will keep people focused on their performance and results whilst still supporting them?
- How will you manage your personal feelings and thoughts about the change and still lead in a professional, positive and supportive manner? What support do you need to be able to do this?
The critical thing is to stay engaged with your team members, encourage teamwork and positive support of each other, communicate effectively and often and lead by example.
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