Change is an interesting phenomenon. It can often be hard at first and messy in the middle, but end up being beneficial and invigorating. And larger-scale changes like switching jobs or moving to a new city can be intimidating and downright scary sometimes.
Though there are a number of reasons for that, the truth is that humans, at our core, are creatures of habit. Consistency creates stability and stability helps us cope with the inherent uncertainty of life.
Change is inherently destabilizing. Even though humans are quite adaptable, handling change still takes time and care. As true as that is for change in our personal lives, it's equally true for our professional lives, too.
In today's rapidly evolving tech industry, organizations and employees face numerous changes, both routine and unexpected. From company downsizing to new tools, reorgs, product releases, and acquisitions, change is a constant force. However, effective leaders can guide their teams through these changes by employing change management principles.
In our recent New Horizons: Navigating Change event Elizabeth Piñon, Operating Partner at Venture City, and Kat McCarthy, Consultant / former Director of CX at IPSY shared how they've approached managing change throughout their careers. Read on to learn more about change management and what you can do to help keep your teams happy and productive even when things seem uncertain.
What is change management?
Fundamentally, change management is a set of strategies and techniques designed to help teams and individuals navigate through transitions smoothly. It's focused on the human side of a change initiative, and the human side is one of the most critical components to get right because without having people on board to accept and help implement the change, it will fail.
Change management involves careful planning, open communication, and fostering a positive environment to ease the process of adopting new ideas, processes, or technologies. It's a way to address any concerns, uncertainties, or resistance that might arise during change, and to ensure that everyone is on board and ready to embrace the future.
Understanding the emotional impact
There's an inherent amount of emotion attached to most change. Whether positive or otherwise, it can be a lot to contend with. Eli and Kat covered the Kubler-Ross change curve, a model that lays out how people sometimes experience the emotions that come along with change.
This curve is like a map that helps us understand the emotional journey we go through when facing changes in our lives. It shows that when we encounter a change, we often go through different stages. At first, we might feel shocked or deny that the change is happening. Then, we might get angry or feel sad about what we're going through. Eventually, we start accepting the change and finding ways to adapt.
The change curve reminds us that it's normal to experience a range of emotions during times of change and that it's okay to take time to adjust and grow. In the end, what will have the most impact are the steps you take to help team members manage and cope with those emotions that come along with change.
To that end, Kat and Eli suggested ways to acknowledge and address each stage of emotion with strategies that help people embrace the change and move forward. First, managers should create alignment by communicating WHAT is changing and WHY, answering questions, and hearing concerns. This helps people understand what to expect and what actions to take to support the change, leading to greater confidence and trust in the plan. Managers can accomplish this by communicating frequently, simply, and repetitively to reinforce the long-term benefits of the change, especially during times of stress.
In addition, managers need to spark motivation and develop capabilities across their teams. Leaders can celebrate small wins, involve them in the implementation process, acknowledge shifts in expectations, and convey optimism and trust to tap into the excitement and help the team rise to the occasion.
Lastly, leaders should encourage their teams to share new skills and reflect on how they navigated the change process. Sharing knowledge will help set everyone up for success when the next change occurs.
Change management in action
Understanding theoretically how to manage change is a good start, but it's also always good to hear first-hand accounts of how someone handled change in a real-world situation. Kat and Eli reflected on a time after their company made an acquisition and was trying to integrate the new team members with existing staff.
It was a big change with lots of moving parts, but they came up with a solid plan to help people feel more comfortable.
"We hosted a Town Hall event where we laid out the vision for the year so everyone knew how we were going to integrate two teams into one - this included multiple software migrations, aligning our reporting and KPIs, standardizing our customer-facing policies, and of course, building our culture. We also gave the team time to get to know each other so they could start bonding with their new teammates - it was essential to make the acquired team members feel welcome and emphasize a one-team mindset," Eli shared.
In doing so they were able to create a smoother transition and help everyone feel part of the process. Instead of this being something that was happening to them, it was an event that everyone was participating in.
When reflecting on that experience, Kat and Eli shared there were three big takeaways:
1. The importance of alignment from the start: Eli and Kat noted that they had a successful integration process because the team knew from day one how important it was that they got it right, for their customers and their business.
2. The importance of including people affected by the change: People support what they help create, so Kat and Eli made sure to invite dialogue and collaboration by doing AMAs (ask-me-anything), asking for feedback, and delegating responsibility across the different projects so everyone could feel a sense of ownership and impact.
3. The importance of relationship building: Kat noted that the more connected she felt to the people around her, even in a remote setting, the more energy she had to work through challenges. To her, intentional relationship building was crucial for giving her and the team a morale boost, as well as for the strategic benefit of stronger working partnerships.
Change doesn't have to be scary
Confronting change isn't always the easiest. Sometimes it comes across as exciting, and even a relief, and other times it feels too overwhelming to even think about. Though you can't always predict or control how change will play out, you can control how you respond to it.
So the next time there's a change on your team's horizon, make sure you're taking the steps to help them feel supported throughout. Not only will it go a long way to making things a lot smoother, it will also show them that you're all in this together, and that change doesn't have to be so scary.