How Can a People-First Approach Affect Your Change Management Abilities?

Beth Miller |

change management

Managing change can be difficult for many business owners and leaders. When change is approached through the lens of people management, however, those leaders can effectively navigate organizational change so that the company is successful when everyone arrives at the other side.

Approaching Change from an Employee Perspective

When thinking about change management, leaders must ask themselves, “How is this change going to affect the people who work for me?” They must keep in mind that changes affect people, some quite deeply, and therefore they must put themselves in their employees’ shoes first. Do any roles need to be changed throughout the process? Should anyone be given additional responsibilities? What types of training should be put in place to prepare the team for what’s coming down the road? What tools will my team need to navigate this change successfully?

I see many small business owners who look at change from the organization’s perspective but struggle to manage change from an employee perspective. I can recall a business owner whose company was growing rapidly, and he recognized that he needed to add an additional function to the group. He promoted from within, elevating an individual contributor to a management role. However, that employee was not properly trained, nor were her leadership skills properly developed to help her succeed in her new position. Needless to say, that new manager lasted less than one year as a manager. Who failed? The business owner did. He neglected the importance of developing his employee so she could be successful.

In order to set teams up for success, leaders must be able to visualize how change will impact individuals, and then develop strategies that will help them lead their teams through the change.

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Putting Yourself in Your Teams’ Shoes

In many cases, fear is the root of resistance to change. Employees may wonder if they will lose their jobs, or they may fear that they will not be able to perform at a level that is expected of them. When an employee has done their job the same way for a significant number of years, it’s only natural that they would be fearful of new systems, technologies, or processes. Leaders and managers should be empathetic to these fears, and address them directly with the workforce.

Hold Town Hall meetings where leaders can address the change. Outline the reasons why the company has adopted those changes, and explain how the new processes and systems will help the organization reach its goals. Train managers to hold similar meetings with their teams, where departmental goals are discussed. In their one-on-one meetings with employees, managers should be sure to set aside time to talk about the upcoming change and how it will affect each team member’s job in a positive way.

It is important for all leaders to remember that they are several steps ahead of the workforce when organizational change is taking place. They have already been through the analysis of change, made the decision to implement new processes or systems, or they’ve known for quite some time that regulations will force change upon the company. Employees are not privy to those details, and they will be in a different mindset when changes are announced. Many will feel as though these changes are being thrust upon them. Get out in front of the resistance, and be prepared to put in some extra work with some individuals.

Managing Extreme Resistance to Change

There will always be individuals who resist change. Effective leaders know how to manage those individuals to help them accept new systems, processes or policies, and guide them to success.

Understanding an individual’s extreme resistance is the first step in helping people adjust their mindset. Once resistant employees have been identified, leaders should sit down with those individuals and have an open, frank discussion about what drives their resistance. Their feelings can then be addressed, and leaders have a better idea of how to coach that person through the change.

Discussions with resistant employees should include a conversation about the forces that drove the change. They might have been external – the result of a new government regulation – or they may have been strategic. Explain the challenges that the company faces, and the reasons why the change will ultimately help the employee with his or her job. Allow the employee to ask questions, and be willing to provide the answers they seek. While it is important to work directly with resisters, leaders should also set clear expectations. Empathize, but make sure the employee knows that the change is coming no matter what, and they will be expected to comply with the changes, no matter what their personal feelings may be.

Managing change is a process that involves planning, foresight, and the ability to view the change from the employees’ perspective. When in doubt, leaders should always frame conversations that show employees how the change will ultimately benefit them and the workforce. When leaders can show people what’s in it for them, they will be more likely to buy in to organizational change.

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Beth Miller

Beth Miller

Beth Armknecht Miller’s passion for learning, and dedication to helping others, are strands woven throughout her distinguished career, which continue to guide her work with Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. As a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer, Beth holds herself to a rigorous standard of excellence, and she encourages her clients to do the same when pursuing their goals.

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