Change is inevitable. From organizational initiatives and M&A activity to market conditions and leadership transitions, it’s not about if change will happen but when it will happen. Therefore, the key to change management success is to be proactive and train your leaders early. After all, it may not be the change that employees fear the most but rather how the change will be handled.
Change of any magnitude triggers an emotional response. The corporate world may tend to shy away from or even suppress the emotions involved with change; however, it is a huge component to success. While managing the processes that need to be introduced or changed is important, you must have leaders in place with the emotional intelligence and people skills to manage and support the employees who will be the hands that make the change a reality.
While emotional intelligence may be partly instinct, your leaders will be better equipped if you train and develop their skills in the following three areas.
Transparency is key during times of change. Consider how behaviors, thoughts or actions can be interpreted or misinterpreted by employees. Not only should you be training your leaders on how to articulate a change announcement with logic and clarity, but they should also be aware of how they are non-verbally communicating with employees before the change happens. Appearing secretive can lead to negative emotions, such as fear or resentment, making change more difficult to embrace when it comes time to do so.
Once they have made the change announcement, leaders must apply their interpersonal and communication skills to influence, persuade, answer questions and discuss concerns. Equip them with the capabilities to foster a culture within their teams that encourages clarifying questions and open discussion. When employees feel supported and confident in a culture that promotes this genuine form of dialogue, they are more likely to embrace the change.
One of the most important managerial competencies that separates good leaders from great ones is coaching. The ability – or inability – of a leader to coach is exponentially amplified during times of change. Therefore, engaging with and coaching one’s employees through the transition is one of the greatest factors in the success of a change initiative.
When done effectively, good coaching establishes a rapport that builds trust, confidence in the change and alignment for the future. To be a great coach, leaders must be trained to actively listen and ask exploratory questions to help team members articulate their hopes and concerns. Coaching encourages team members to find their own answers and formulate a plan for how they will personally succeed through the transition. Following up on a regular basis is critical to building trust and demonstrating the level of support employees receive during transitions.
Leaders must be held accountable for their own actions during change to ensure its success. Employees are more likely to feel empowered and embrace the change when they see their leaders actively participating in and supporting the change initiative themselves. Leaders must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. The optics of leaders driving the new reality not only make the weight of change much less burdensome for everyone involved, but they actually serve to inspire collaboration and teamwork in order to implement the change. When everyone is held accountable for his or her own attitudes and responsibilities, and delivers accordingly, change succeeds.
During times of change, leaders must be proactively trained to have a mindset of constant consideration of how their actions, behaviors and words may influence the way employees internalize their accountabilities. Leaders who promote collaboration, input and teamwork during these periods of transition demonstrate that when everyone is engaged in working toward a common goal, it positively benefits the organization both in the present and in the future.
As John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Most organizations would agree with this statement. However, the understanding that often evades most leadership training on this topic is that change impacts each person uniquely. How it will manifest in each employee is different, and leaders cannot apply their skills in a one-size-fits-all manner. Leaders who are constantly honing their emotional intelligence and change management skills will fare far better when change does happen. They are the leaders who will be able to communicate, coach and hold people accountable, and they will achieve the desired outcome.