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Managing Change

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Is an essential skill for all line managers and leaders

As my daughter prepared to leave for university, I found myself experiencing the impact of change first hand.

She has to adjust to the biggest change in her life to date, and we have to learn how to function as a family of 3 rather than 4. We have to trust that we’ve given her all the skills she needs to successfully function independently of us.

Even though hundreds of thousands of people go through this change every year (indeed, I put my parents through it over 30 years ago), it’s still the first time I’VE been through it. So although we have planned for it as best we can, I know that there will be unexpected challenges for us all – both practical and emotional, that we will need to deal with.

Change should never be underestimated – in life and in work, whether it’s planned or not.

And it's something that first-line managers have to navigate on a regular basis, often without any real idea about what to do, so they cross their fingers and hope for the best. But just a little training can make a big difference.

Change is Loss

In our Manage the Impact of Change bite-size training session, we talk about the fact that change generally represents a loss of some kind. Before the change, we are operating in a comfort zone. When change occurs it takes us out of that comfort zone and causes distress. Distress is almost always related to one kind of loss or another. Even if it is planned!

It’s always important to recognise that.

The emotional reaction to change tends to stem from a loss of one of the elements of SCARF (as defined by David Rock) i.e. Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relationships or Fairness. It can be other things too, but it’s always worth exploring which of these have been disrupted first.

When managing people, it’s important to acknowledge the loss, allow time for people to mourn it, and help them to move towards the new reality one step at a time.

Understanding Resistance to Change

In our Handle Resistance to Change ready-written training session, we help people to understand why others may have difficulty adjusting. The most important thing (of course) is not to make assumptions, and to make sure we don’t presume that everyone reacts the same way.

Indeed many senior managers under-estimate the impact of change because they’ve been discussing it for a while - they’ve helped to define the change. They’ve seen it coming. Employees have often been blissfully unaware until an ‘announcement’ is made. It’s no surprise that people react emotionally.

Here are some practical tips to help people make the change (which are expanded up on our Module)…

  1. Listen carefully to what is being said.

  2. Observe and react to non-verbal signals from body language rather than pretending you didn’t notice.

  3. Look at things from their point of view. You don’t need to agree with it, just recognize it.

  4. Consider what you would have to do to convince YOU in this situation.

  5. Plan your approach or responses so that you show empathy.

  6. Concentrate on what it means for them, not you. Other people can’t (or won’t) accept an alternative reality unless we acknowledge their starting point.

  7. Check your responses are reasonable. Sometimes you have to make tough calls, but you can soften the blow by choosing the right timings and words.

  8. Seek out and stress areas of agreement. Help people to focus on what’s staying the same to minimize the perceived disruption.

  9. Minimise areas of disagreement. Check that you’re not simply articulating things differently, and identify what are fundamental differences and where potential compromises can be reached – even if just temporarily.

  10. Agree steps for moving forward. Focus on the next step. You don’t always need to make the whole journey in one go.

Leading change in VUCA environments

And in our Lead Transition in VUCA environments, we explore how managers can lead others when change is constant. VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – and that describes pretty much every business right now, even the more traditional ones.

Remember that change can be incremental or fundamental. Fundamental change is noticeable and disruptive – we brace ourselves for it and tend to have project plans to help implement it. Incremental change however, is ongoing. It’s less defined, it has no project plan. no timeframe or end point. It means that we live in an environment of constant transition, punctuated by fundamental changes that we have to absorb.

Helping people to successfully transition through change relies on successfully engaging their heart as well as their mind.

Managing people through change and transition needs leaders not just to accelerate rational understanding, but also support emotional acceptance: One without the other won’t bring lasting results.

Our ready-written training session explores Bridges Transition Model (amongst other things) focusing on the practical actions that managers can take to engage head and heart to guide and support people through times of change.

So although it’s easy to think that managing change is all about managing an event or a project, it’s much more about managing people: It’s more about managing emotions than information, and as such, it’s an essential skill for any leader of people.

Each of ready-written training sessions is available for face-to-face or virtual training and if you buy the EDITABLE package, you can get 10% off by using code CHANGE (for the virtual versions) or CHANGEF2F (for the face-to-face) version)

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