4 Tips for Leading through Rapid Change

By July 31, 2018 Leadership

To run a business is to ride the waves of change. Market disruptions, growth opportunities, and an influx of new ideas can mean sudden, at times jarring shifts in the direction of a company. For startups in particular, change is vital to growth and success, but it can be difficult for employees to adjust when it happens so quickly.

As a leader, it’s important to acknowledge the impact that these sudden changes can have on your employees and show a degree of empathy as they adjust to a new status quo. When you know transition is imminent, these four tactics can help minimize disruption while keeping morale high in your team to ensure better outcomes.

Communicate the Desired Outcome

The only constant in business is change. Many leaders embrace this and leverage it to consistently grow and improve their businesses, but without the full picture, employees may not understand the purpose of a new direction. Why are you changing to a new ticketing system? Why are we changing the product roadmap on short notice? Why are we scrapping a nearly finished project and starting over?

From the employee’s perspective, change can be disruptive and even, at times, pointless. A leader’s role is to bridge that gap and communicate clearly the desired outcome. Acknowledge and empathize with the challenges employees might face along the way but make them feel supported in the effort to show that “we’re all in this together”.

They need to know that their small part is critical to realizing the leader’s vision. By communicating the “why” behind these changes, it’s easier to obtain buy-in from your key performers. At the same time, it sparks a dialogue through which you can empathize with the increased workload or stress that comes with those changes.

Maximizing Performance from a Team

A leader’s role is to focus on delivering strong, near-perfect outcomes. They push their teams to constantly improve and reach for the next milestone on the path to success. But there is a fine line between pushing a team to succeed and riding them into the ground. Your role is to identify when to push, how to motivate, and what really drives each individual in the company.

To start, recognize that while your ultimate goal is near-perfection, it’s not always attainable in the short term. Especially when faced with tight deadlines in the midst of significant internal changes, you might want to apply the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule tells us that 20% of changes you can make that will drive 80% of your desired outcome. Instead of attempting to make 100% of a product perfect, focus on the 20% that will have the greatest impact.

Addressing the Inherent Emotion in Change

Humans are averse to change, so it will always be difficult to tell a team of engineers and product managers to fundamentally alter how they work without at least some pushback. To take the emotion out of change, leaders need to move beyond mass messaging and drill to the heart of employee concerns.

If you know your team, do this through one-on-one conversations. Sit down with each immediate member of your team and talk to them about the transition in a direct, business-oriented way. How are they handling it? What would they do differently?

These conversations do two things.

The time you take to engage with your team one-on-one allows you to identify and acknowledge what drives each individual and what will best incentivize them. You can then better personalize your message, both now and in the future to greater effect.

At the same time, these conversations show that you care and empathize with their discomfort, while alleviating some of the emotional response to the change. It’s a business decision based on many factors, including but not exclusive to their input.

Addressing Challenges in Implementation

One of the biggest gaps between leadership and implementation lies in the details. Through a series of meetings, you might identify a hole in your current project management tools. Things are falling through the gaps, especially with outside vendors? As a leader, this will seem simple enough to solve – find a new tool and close the communication gaps.

For the employees whose day-to-day efforts are most impacted by this change, however, the reality is very different. There’s the inherent repercussions of migrating to new technology, the loss of productivity as everyone acclimates, or the lack of total adoption as some employees hold out or insist on using email. The result is a big change not being fully implemented because of a laundry list of minutiae you may not have foreseen.

Despite your best efforts, situations like this will happen, but you can prepare for them with an open communication policy. Encourage people to tell you what their issues are during a change. Through this feedback you may uncover a need for more intensive training programs, better communication from leadership, a delayed rollout of new tools or processes, or more.

As much as we focus on the aversion to change in employees, they don’t want to be the squeaky wheel – the one person seen as “complaining” or “stalling” a major organizational overhaul. The hesitance of your team to communicate their concerns can lead to major challenges in the implementation of key changes.

Carefully Plan Changes for the Future of Your Business

Every change you make has a lasting impact on your business – some of which you can predict, and many of which you can’t. Employees you trust and rely on can be a wildcard in this process. They may be frustrated by changes they don’t fully understand that disrupt their lives and make their jobs harder. This in turn plants a seed you might not have to face for months or even years, but it’s still there.

Fear of change can drive good employees away from your company. The employees who are capable of engaging in open communication and riding the ups and downs of transition are the champions of change you may one day tap as future leaders in your organization. When you work with your team to support them, even in the toughest periods of rapid change, you can bring these future leaders into the fold sooner than later. Your transparency and clear direction helps establish a united front from a leadership perspective and identifies the individuals who will work best with you as your company grows.

Author Cameron Yarbrough

Cameron is the Co-founder and CEO of Torch Leadership Labs. In this capacity, Cameron heads up business development, sales, and marketing, and defines Torch’s strategic vision. He brings 15 years of entrepreneurial experience to his role as CEO, along with a deep background in mindfulness and psychotherapy.

More posts by Cameron Yarbrough

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