Brent, the CEO of a rapidly growing networking firm, knew it was time for a major organizational shift. The flat structure of the company’s earlier years wasn’t suited to their new, bigger footprint. If the company was going to continue to grow and serve its customers, they needed to make some big changes.
Brent was worried about moving forward with these changes because many of his best, most experienced employees had been with the firm since the very beginning. These employees were all deeply settled in their roles and had grown accustomed to the company’s current structure. Would they be able to adjust to what the company needed to become? As CEO, it was Brent’s job to come up with a plan to restructure the company without alienating his long-time employees. If he succeeded, his company would come out of the reorganization stronger than ever before. However, employees sometimes resist change, so Brent knew it was up to him to model positivity and foster a climate of honesty and transparency in order to help his employees through the process.
Organizational Change Breeds Uncertainty
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only constant is change.” While that may be true, most people still avoid change. We find our comfort zone and want to stay there. It’s a natural inclination, but it’s also a dangerous one because when we refuse to change, we also refuse to grow.
In order to grow, business leaders and their employees have to embrace discomfort as they move between states and find the new normal. According to the Wisconsin Office of State Employment Relations, the vast majority of employees react to organizational change with fear, anxiety, and resistance. This isn’t so much because of the change itself, but because of the uncertainty that goes along with change. In a climate of uncertainty, every decision becomes fraught with potentially damaging repercussions. Stress grows and productivity suffers because no one feels like they can plan for the future.
As a leader, your job is to help your employees navigate change. Model a positive outlook, listen to their concerns, address their fears, and reduce their uncertainty. Your actions can determine whether your employees are unnerved by change, or inspired by it.
Achieving Buy-in from Your Employees
As Brent began the reorganization process, his first focus had to be his most senior employees. They’d been with the company the longest and were the guardians of the culture. He wanted them to see that while the structure of the company needed to change to keep up with the growing business, the spirit of the company would remain the same.
Brent began the process with a series of roundtable-style discussions where he listened to what these experienced employees had to say. Their main fears had to do with corporate culture. Would the new corporate structure reduce comradery? Would the reorganization lead to rigidity and kill innovation? Most of all, they wanted Brent to reassure them that they’d still love their jobs after the changes went into effect.
If your company is going through major changes, your first step should also be to listen to employees. Hold roundtables and town hall-style meetings. Try to personally speak to each of your most affected employees. In the absence of a clear message from corporate leadership, many of your employees will assume the worst. To keep your team together, you must be clear and open about your plans and what you’re trying to achieve. Otherwise, your most talented employees will be the first to jump ship for other opportunities.
Provide Positive Leadership in Five Ways
The initial period of any organizational change is always difficult. Employees have to change their routines and way of thinking, and that creates discomfort. For instance, many of Brent’s new managers were uncomfortable in their role and reluctant to act the part. Brent realized he’d need to ease them into the new structure and help them learn their new roles. At the same time, he had to listen to what his employees had to say in order to ensure that the difficult task of adapting to the new mindset didn’t sap the joy from their jobs.
Every leader faces difficulties during organizational change. The leaders who navigate change successfully do these five things:
Remember, your job is to empower and inspire your employees so that they embrace the change and help create the new corporate reality.
On the Other Side of Change
The first few months after a reorganization are always difficult, but Brent was careful to keep his employees focused on the end goals—a company that could continue to grow and meet client needs; a responsive, experienced management team; and new structures that made work easier and more intuitive. As time went on, employees settled into the new structure. They found new comfort zones and expanded their skill sets. In retrospect, they can see clearly that change needed to happen. They’re glad the company made the move, even though it was uncomfortable at the time.
You can also help your employees through tough changes with positive leadership. Look at the process from the perspective of your employees and try to anticipate which part will be most difficult for them. By remaining responsive, service-focused, and positive, you can shepherd your company through change and towards a better future.
Positive leadership and other essential leadership skills can help you take your business to the next level. Consider our leader development services, where you can learn the 35 fundamental principles of leadership. To learn more, contact Applied Vision Works today.