Change is the one constant we can all count on, and the last few years have made that abundantly clear. Even when things are calm, most of us seek stability- now, we crave that even more. Workplaces aim to provide employees with consistency through management structures. But when changes come along – new regulations, shifts in market trends, etc. – we need leaders more than managers.
Change often triggers emotions like fear and uncertainty for you and your team. If you've ever sat staring at a blank screen, struggling to find the right words to communicate upcoming changes, or wondering the best way to rip off a band-aide, know that you're not alone. Finding the right approach is crucial for maintaining trust and keeping your team motivated during times of transition.
Guiding a team through change is a challenging endeavor, especially when leaders themselves are resistant to change and bring their own baggage into the process. So, how can you handle this delicate balancing act? Here are some tips to help you communicate changes in your organization more effectively:
Just when you think your team has finally found its groove, life always seems to throw you a curveball. It could be a disruptive new technology or an impending merger – regardless, it will shake up your team's routine. As painful as it might be to address, you can’t wait until the 9th inning to let your team in on the upcoming changes. You must be proactive about your communication.
People need time and space to process changes. The earlier you start discussing an upcoming change, the less likely you will overwhelm or disorient your team. The advanced notice allows your team to mentally and operationally prepare and make the transition smoother. Plus, if your employees feel blindsided, they're more likely to resist the change, making it harder for everyone.
So when is the right time to break the news? It's a delicate balance. If you start the conversations too early, you risk causing unnecessary anxiety or spreading rumors. On the flip side, waiting too long can lead to feelings of betrayal or mistrust, as employees may feel kept in the dark. A good rule of thumb is to communicate when you have enough concrete information to offer a clear picture of what the change involves, but before the change has advanced so much that employees can't adequately prepare.
The worst thing you can do is pretend you have all the answers when you don't. Be upfront about what you know and what you're still figuring out. Transparency about uncertainties can help manage expectations and prepare the team for potential challenges ahead. Owning up to the fact that there are unknowns makes you seem more real and trustworthy, which can help build stronger relationships within your team. Plus, when you are willing to share before you have all the answers, it allows you to ‘be proactive”.
Invite questions and engagement
The desire to feel like you have everything planned for and are presenting a cohesive plan can actually backfire. Instead, make room for questions and active participation.
If you stand in a conference room and announce, "This is the way it is now," you're shutting down any space for conversation. Please, don't do that. If you do, you're taking on the full responsibility for the change's success and missing out on the opportunity for team engagement.
It might be uncomfortable to leave space for feedback when announcing change, but it is well worth it. By making yourself just a little vulnerable, you are opening the plan to feedback, criticism, and acceptance. This approach brings everyone into the fold. Actively engaging your team in these discussions invites them into the process. Just because you are the leader does not mean that you have to have all the answers or that you even should.
Opening up a channel for constructive conversation allows team members to voice their concerns, offer suggestions, and provide insights. Not only does this make you appear more approachable, but it also taps into the team's collective intelligence, increasing the likelihood that the change will be implemented successfully.
Give clear calls to action
After learning about an upcoming change, your team might need help figuring out what to do with this bomb you just dropped. End the conversation with clear information on how a change will – or won't – affect their roles and give clear actions about what they should do next. Without direction, your communication can lead to confusion, demotivation, and inefficiency. Leaders should share the rationale behind the change, the expected outcomes, and the expected individual responsibilities.
Update with purpose
After your initial communication, keep the team updated. However, every update should serve a distinct purpose. It could be to share new developments, clarify existing information, or seek feedback. Aimless updates can muddle your communication and diminish its importance. Before updating, consider how you expect your team to respond to the message, as noted in “give clear calls to action.”
And remember, if there are no updates, this can lower the accountability of a team. Whether you are holding yourself accountable to promises you made or following up with the asks from the group, keeping the change in your conversations increases the likelihood of adoption.
Leading in ambiguity
Uncertainty can be unsettling; sparking questions that aren't quickly answered. In these moments, strong leadership means acknowledging the ambiguity and committing to finding solutions. Even if you can't provide 100% clarity, you can offer the team honesty and stability.
At the end of the day, you won't have all the answers. Be willing to tackle change head-on with a collaborative mindset. Share it with your team, let them engage, and give them permission to hold you accountable. This level of leadership instills confidence and provides the team with something they can rely on as they navigate the changing landscape together.
E Leader Experience equips leaders at all levels to navigate change effectively and communicate more clearly with their teams. If an upcoming change is coming to your organization, we can offer valuable tools, resources, and coaching to fine-tune your strategy and communication for the best results. Contact us today to set up a chat.