Leading Change in Times of Uncertainty

So when will things get back to normal? The reality is life will never be the same as it was ten years ago, two years ago or even yesterday. While change typically happens at a slower pace than it has during the pandemic—it is a constant occurrence that requires us to adjust our behavior and think differently. One of the pivotal roles of a leader is to help employees manage and accept change. Leading radical change can be extremely difficult, depending on the resistance level. However, avoiding the actions required for positioning the business for growth and long-term success is not a viable solution. Understanding the most common reasons people fight change can help leaders create strategies to enable them to:

  • Limit disruption and better manage the process
  • Gain buy-in from employees and identify roadblocks
  • Build trust that the outcome will be worth the effort

Losing control of territory
People like operating independently and making decisions about what happens in their area of operation. When someone steps in (especially the boss) and tells employees to change what they’ve always done, it eliminates options and feels invasive. Rather than creating a plan and mandating change, leaders should allow those employees impacted by the transition to have choices that would achieve the new changes without taking away ownership of the process. Partnering with the person or team in the planning process could eliminate hurt feelings and the belief that only the opinions of leadership matter in decision-making.

Fear of the unknown
People will give it thumbs down when change feels like jumping from a plane without a parachute. Uncertainty is scary enough; it only feels worse when people think the change will worsen their current situation. When implementing change, it’s critical to overcome the paralyzing fear that makes people want to stay in the secure space of what’s familiar. Leaders should confidently present their vision and share the process in a simple, straightforward manner—complete with step-by-step directives and timetables.

Spring into action now
Few things are worse for employees than having significant changes sprung on them without advanced notice. Their first inclination is to resist whatever is occurring since they aren’t prepared for what’s happening. It’s always better for leaders to be transparent and make employees aware of impending changes by collaborating with the impacted parties to seek their input. Often, the people closest to the situation can provide solutions that will make the plan more effective and the transition easier.

Piling on more work
Achieving work-life balance is top-of-mind for employees. Change is disruptive and creates more work for everyone. The people responsible for restructuring processes to achieve change are often overburdened with testing and eliminating glitches. Failures are bound to happen, and no one wants to bear the blame. Empathetic leaders should acknowledge the efforts of the people working to ensure that change is achieved with special rewards and recognition.

Can I do what’s expected of me?
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” People often dislike change because they may not have the skills required to perform the new tasks. This uncertainty is expressed through skepticism that the change will work or mentioning a preference for the status quo. With rapid technological advances, employees who feel unprepared for radical changes may have valid concerns. To reassure people, leaders should over-communicate to ensure employees receive training, education, and ongoing support to prepare them for the changes ahead.

It Looks like I did something wrong
So, what about the people associated with the version that didn’t work or is being replaced? This can be a sensitive issue since employees can get defensive about changes involving a significant shift in direction. Those responsible for the current situation may think others view their efforts as failures or have done something wrong. Years ago, when businesses experienced more stability and had fewer economic pressures, monumental change was less commonplace. Leaders who are respectful and strive to maintain people’s dignity can make it clear they are doing what is necessary to respond to changes in the world to ease the transition. Try to make it easier for everyone to move forward.

Leaders are not responsible for how people respond to change. The goal is to help people see the big picture and minimize their discomfort. When leaders can identify the sources of resistance, they can address the employees’ concerns and find solutions that make it easier for them to accept change.

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