Effective change management is an important skill for leaders to have, especially since our organizations can experience change all the time. Whether your team is adapting to changes in hierarchy structure, bringing on a new employee, pivoting your mission statement, or more recently, adapting to a global pandemic, your team relies on you to help them through that change. But if you’re not sure what it means to be great at change management, we’re here to help! Check out the six tips below that will help you not only support your employees during times of change, but become so comfortable with change that you welcome it with open arms.
Sometimes change happens quickly and unexpectedly, just like with the COVID-19 pandemic, and you’re likely searching for that balance between responding to the situation quickly and making effective decisions. However, it’s important to make sure that you are defining your vision for the change, being mindful of your mission, and creating a strategic plan.
Defining your vision can simply be a list of internal and external goals you hope to achieve with this change. For instance, goals during the COVID-19 pandemic can include providing valuable resources to clients and maintaining revenue streams to keep your business afloat. Define your goals so you and your team know what you’re working toward. These goals still need to align with your overall mission, however, so make sure you keep that in mind.
Developing a strategic plan requires involvement from key stakeholders and the ability to be flexible. Your plan may change along the way, and that’s okay. Roll with the punches, communicate these changes to your staff, and always come back to your vision and mission to help you make that next big decision.
Let’s just be honest for a moment: your team is probably scared, and you may not have all the answers. But that’s okay! Ask for input from your employees, and seek out their advice. Asking for help from your team is not a sign of weakness as a leader; it’s a sign that you care about their vision for the future and want to ensure their happiness. Ultimately, process changes will likely affect them the most, so who better to seek recommendations from? If you need to make decisions quickly, you can ask for input via surveys with a strict deadline.
COVID-19 is one of the greatest and most unprecedented changes your employees have likely ever encountered, so be empathetic with them and acknowledge any concerns they might have. This does not mean you have to make guarantees that everything will be fine, but listening to your team will go a long way. Change is scary, but opening up lines for communication and trust can help ease their fears and remind them that you are all experiencing this together. A great way to do this is engage in weekly, individual “temperature checks” with each of your team members.
This next part is not to discourage you, but to remind you of the realities of change management:
There will be challenges.
There will be pitfalls you did not expect.
There will be times when you need to adapt your carefully-constructed strategic plan.
But you are the key to mitigating many of these challenges! As you're laying out your strategic plan, think about potential barriers early on in the process and start talking through potential solutions, just in case. If you have ever seen the show Parks and Recreation (and if you haven’t, you need to!), remember back to a scene where Leslie Knope is submitting a Master Plan for the park she hopes to build. She creates a backup plan for her Master Plan meeting and says,
In the event that the Master Plan meeting is cut short. In the event that I have laryngitis and cannot present the Master Plan. In the event that the Master Plan meeting is moved onto a boat. I am prepared for every situation.
Leslie Knope is the ultimate definition of “extra,” of course, but be like Leslie, and think about those challenges your team might face and how you might overcome those. What happens if a portion of your consumer base is no longer interested in the services you provide? What happens if your team unexpectedly needs to reorganize and restructure? What happens if your budget faces severe cuts? Considering these questions early on will help you meet potential challenges and face them with determination. Remember, you planned for this! You've got this!
Communication is key to successful change management, but must be done with intention and must carry through the entire lifecycle of the change. It is important that you communicate frequently, effectively, and with transparency and to focus on all audience groups (i.e.: your employees, your leaders, your clients, your external stakeholders, etc.). Develop communication plans with an outline for what you plan to share, how you plan to share it, and how often the sharing will take place.
The important part of this step, however, is to remember that communication needs to happen on an ongoing basis.
For instance, if your team absorbs a new department, you can communicate this change before the two departments merge, during the transition phase itself, and six to nine months after the merge has concluded, just as a “temperature check” for your team. The main point here is that communication is extremely important and needs to happen over the entire lifecycle of the change, not just at the beginning.
Like with any plan, change, or new vision, it’s important to track your successes and note any areas that could use some improvement. Overall, your outcomes should consist of both quantitative and qualitative measures, but be sure to define your tracking methods from the very beginning.
This is where your goals from step #1 will come into play. If your goal is to provide educational content for your clients, you’ll need to decide which metrics will best indicate how you met that goal. How many programs did you implement? What topics did you cover? What was the click-rate and ROI on your Facebook ads? How much revenue did you generate as a result of a specific project? Define these metrics early on, develop a tracking method that is easy for your team to use, and routinely check on these metrics to get a sense of how your strategic plan is coming along.
Celebration is an extremely important step in the change management process, especially during changes like the COVID-19 outbreak. Your team is likely feeling scared and frustrated, especially if they are sharing their home and workspace with others, worrying about family members getting sick, and are stressed about financial hardships. As a leader, you may not be able to control these concerns, but you can be sure that your internal process is as seamless as possible for those who are helping you manage it. Set important milestones with deadlines, and when your team reaches those milestones, celebrate them. You have all done important, challenging work, and this deserves recognition.
Looking for other resources for pivoting your organization during the COVID-19 response? Check out our COVID-19 E-book Resource Guide!