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4 Things Leaders Misjudge During Change

With the rapid pace of complex change in most organizations, leaders often get drawn into activities that take them away from the staff members they are leading. Frequent meetings outside of the work unit tend to be a major culprit. Absence from meaningful contact can cause leaders to misread what staff members are experiencing, some of which may be emotional and intense. Here are four critical dynamics leaders misjudge during times of change.

1. How much staff members really understand about the reason for the change. The most poorly communicated aspect of change is the “case,” i.e. an explanation of what’s wrong with the way things are now. Leaders need to spend time giving clear examples of the problems inherent with the status quo and, in turn, describe what will be different when the change is made. Create pictures that illustrate “before the change” and “after the change.”

2. How much staff members know about what is happening. John Kotter’s research revealed that leaders under-communicate by a factor of 10 during major change efforts. While leaders have been privy to multiple discussions about change, others often lag behind in their understanding. It’s important to backtrack and fill in what may be missing in the story the staff members have heard. Then, use redundant communication in multiple modes to keep everyone updated and confident that things are moving forward. Noting steps on the path to implementation will also help to achieve clarity.

3. How staff members feel. Most people view change as a loss and that means leaders must empathize with and manage the mood of their work unit as well as individual responses. Dealing with the feelings that accompany the perceived loss is an important part of the leaders role and shouldn’t be viewed as secondary. Listen and allow people to vent and express their emotions. Provide a resource for counseling if needed. Expecting staff members to “buck up” and move forward is naive and sure to produce a backlash of anger and resentment.

4. How many staff members are ready to move forward. Often the negative chorus is loudest, drowning out those who are more positive, or at least neutral, about the change effort. Leaders tend to focus on the naysayers and lose sight of the critical mass that is ready to deal with the change. Make sure your attention is proportionately placed on those who, with solid communication and encouragement, will be the change agents.

Stay tuned in to the needs of your staff members during change and you will find that the course is steadier and smoother. Change is best when done with others, not to them.

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