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Leading through Change

Posted by Christopher Morrissette on Sep 10, 2020 12:22:37 PM

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It has been said that success is frequently determined by the ability to adapt and respond to the speed of change. In years past this concept has been related to such things as technology, economics, demographics, and the political climate.   

In 2019, I, like many Americans, spent a great deal of time in the air, traveling between meetings. Those who travel regularly would agree that to succeed and stay on top of your game you must truly master the art of multitasking. In pre-COVID days, I would have virtual meetings timed to end within minutes of “wheels up” or start within minutes of “wheels down.”   I have booked many Uber rides while multi-tasking or leading a meeting; it is scary to think about what is possible when you adapt.

Fast forward six months and the world around us is almost unrecognizable. Meetings are no longer held in airports while walking through TSA or ordering at Starbucks. We are now managing conference calls in pajamas while drowning out the sound of the dogs wrestling under foot, the kids homeschooling at the kitchen table, or the sound of the neighbor’s lawn service.

As we round the corner with the first half 2020 behind us, I think most would agree that this has been a year like no other. The COVID 19 pandemic has served as a global accelerant forcing the world around us to change faster than imaginable.

Rapid change can often cause a fight or flight response. We have all been subject to attempting to move forward a new idea or concept only to be met by the response “we have never done it that way before”, “that is not going to work” or “if they do that then I am looking for another job.” Resistance to change is a part of the human experience.  We fear the unknown as we cling to what is most comfortable. I think most would agree that 2020 has forced ALL of us to adapt to change as we have had little to no control over the events. As leaders, it is important for us to have a strong footing to lead our organizations and teams through the times of great uncertainty. To do that, we must take a step back and look at what the common drivers to change resistance are: fear, insecurity, inequity, and a lack of trust.

Fear

We must acknowledge that the fear of change often originates from our past. The child who moved homes every year grows up to be the adult who has lived for 65 years in the same home, etc. The individual who drives the same way to work everyday for the past 15 years out of habit and then fears the change in their routine, etc. There is also the fear of the unknown which often leads to insecurity.

Insecurity

Insecurity in change is common as many ask the question, “How does this impact me?” We experience insecurity when there is a change in a policy, a new team member is hired, the organization changes leadership or ownership. Employees often experience insecurity when they have little to no control over change that is occurring around them.

Inequity

Many people experience a feeling of inequity in times of change due to change impacting them differently than those around them. Often individuals experiencing change that is not systemic question, “Why me, why my department, why now?”

I have a friend whose company made the decision to relocate his department from a place that was only 10 minutes from his home to another location 30 minutes from his home while the 3 other departments remained in the former building. My friend experienced this feeling of inequity as he now has added 40 minutes of commuting to his day while his co-workers did not.

Lack of trust

Change can often result in a lack of trust when not accompanied by adequate communication. Organizations that implement change without clear communication cause employees to feel undervalued and unappreciated. While not all change is avoidable or planned, it is important for leaders to have a communication plan that addresses the basics of who, what, where, why, and when

For those in leadership, we hold a great responsibility in helping set the table for change within our organization. There is truth in the statement that “it is not always the strongest nor the most intelligent who succeed, but the one most responsive to change” (Charles Darwin).  However, it is the leaders who are accountable for supporting the change management.

Dr. Elsbeth Johnson in her June 13, 2017 Harvard Business Review article titled How to Communicate Clearly During Organizational Change shares that there are four basic questions that leaders must communicate the answers to during times of significant change:

  1. Why do we need to change, and why now? 
  2. What is the full extent of the change we need? 
  3. If we figure out 1 and 2, what should improve as a result? How will we measure the improvement we’ve been targeting? 
  4. How does this new strategy or change link to previous strategies? 

When we think about the change that is occurring around us it is important that we lead by example, communicate, and help support our teams to success.

A leader does not always have to have a clear view of the horizon; but good communication, encouragement, accountability, and role modeling will help overcome the feelings of fear, insecurity, inequity, and a lack of trust.

 

Chris MorrissetteCOO of Palliative Care

Chris Morrissette

 

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 Sources

Johnson, Elsbeth, June 2017: https://hbr.org/2017/06/how-to-communicate-clearly-during-organizational-change

 

Topics: Rapid Change, Leading Through Change, Lack of Trust, Resistance to Change, Fear, Insecurity, Inequity

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