8 Leaders Weigh in on How to Manage Teams During Change

Change can be a challenge for every business. In fact, Chad Brooks, writer for Business News Daily, details a study from the American Psychological Association that shows, “Half of the U.S. workers surveyed have been, currently are or expect to be affected by organizational changes in the next year.”

What’s more, Brooks reports that employers impacted by change are more than twice as likely to struggle with chronic stress, and 55% of employees who recently or currently went through a time of change reported prolonged stress.

Despite the potential drawbacks, change is critical to a company’s growth and can be necessary for increasing revenue and competing in a crowded marketplace. Michael Stahl, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of HealthMarkets, explains his company’s experience with change:

“A little more than five years ago, when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was coming into play, we knew that we had to make some changes to the way we did business. As such, HealthMarkets underwent a digital transformation whereby we altered our online presence and made changes to how our agents work with customers. Change isn’t always welcome, but in our case, it was the right thing to do. We went from selling $500 million in new business premiums to $1.8 billion.”

This is why change management is a critical skill for leaders. It’s inevitable and valuable for companies, but how your team handles it is a determining factor in its success. There are dozens of change management models you can refer to when company changes occur, and you should find one that works best for you and your team.

Along with the change management model of your choice, you need go-to strategies that help you manage the stress and anxiety that comes with change in your organization. These eight leaders share their top strategies for how to best manage your team during change. Pair these with a change management model and clearly defined plan so you can reap the benefits of evolving as a company.

Get Involved

One of the best ways to ease anxiety during change is to get involved in the process from beginning to end.

“While some changes will be finite, others may not be, so always try and get involved. If there is an opportunity to give some true boots on the ground perspective, do it.  Just remember to be positive and helpful in your suggestions,” says Christine Matzen B.S., M.S, and President of Oak Street Strategies, LLC, a Leadership Development and Strategy firm.

Come from an authentic place of understanding and leadership, and you may not only ease tensions but drive change to a more impactful place.

Be Adaptable

Being open to change and flexible in your attitude and expectations can position you as a successful leader who’s able and ready to adapt, says Kean Graham, CEO of MonetizeMore. Graham explains:

“Every time there’s a change in your company, that’s an opportunity to adapt and take advantage of that change. Just the mere perspective change of seeing changes as opportunities rather than nuisances will empower you to manage change optimally.”

Maintain a change-is-good mindset to lead your team and show that you have what it takes the next time a big promotion comes up.

Share the Why

One cause of anxiety on your team during times of change is not knowing the outcome of change. Many employees fear that their jobs could be in jeopardy or that they didn’t perform as they should have. When this happens, fear causes stress and can lead to decreased productivity.

Murray Seward, CEO of Outback Team Building and Training, suggests giving your team the “why” behind the change. He explains: “A great way to make this transition as smooth as possible is to outline why this change is happening. Be clear with the direction the business is trying to trend in and why. Explain the benefits of the change and the cons that will come if they don’t proceed.”

Don’t forget to remind employees how the change will benefit everyone—not just the business. To do so, take an individualized approach, sharing these insights as a company, but then on an individual team basis, so everyone is clear on the value.

Be Clear About Expectations

Communicating with your team about what is expected of them helps everyone feel like they’re working towards a common goal while reducing stress.

James Lloyd-Townshend, Chairman and CEO at Frank Recruitment Group, says, “At a managerial level, defining what’s expected in the face of any departmental or company-wide shift is crucial, as is the ability to foresee any potential issues that might occur. It’s about facing those challenges collectively.”

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When everyone knows where they stand and what comes next, they can relax into the change, rather than being fearful of it. What’s more, going into the change as a team creates a sense of comradery and trust that will be critical as obstacles present themselves.

Recognize That Change Can Feel Like a Loss

Some of your team may go through a period of mourning or grief over what was, making them more resistant to change. This may be seen if a CEO is let go, or an important leader has chosen to leave their position.

It’s important to acknowledge or, at a minimum, know that your team members may feel this way. Elene Cafasso, MCC, owner of Enerpace, Inc. suggests managing this by “painting a picture of what the business will look like after the change.”

This allows everyone to transition their feelings and emotions appropriately and in time.

Create a Communication Plan

It’s an oft-repeated piece of advice and with good reason. Communication is critical to keeping your team on board with any change and managing their anxiety and expectations.

Stahl explains why: “Change can be uncomfortable for many people–and sometimes downright frightening. Your employees want to know that their questions, feelings, opinions, and even fears matter—and that they will be heard.”

As such, a communication plan should be created ahead of any major changes, which should include when you say what and from whom the message will come, says Stahl. With this as your guide, you can be intentional with communication, easing everyone through the change.

Turn Change Into a Learning Opportunity

With every change comes an opportunity—and often a need—for growth. Make this an important aspect of your communication and execution among teams. “You don’t need a ‘growth mindset’ that favors constant financial growth – but, you absolutely need to embrace the philosophy that learning by doing is essential to your personal and professional development. With that in mind, change should become desirable, not avoided,” suggests Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVOIP.

Focus on the new skills employees will acquire and how that benefits them professionally, both within and outside the company. This makes change feel less like a burden and more like an opportunity to be seized.

Breathe

When all else fails, present a calm and focused demeanor to your team. Practice self-care and use all available relaxation techniques at your disposal. Marsha Kelly, a Business Consultant with Best4Buessinesses.com, suggests, “Start by taking a deep breath and mentally relax. Calm your anxieties with reassuring self-talk about how you have handled changes in the past successfully, knowing that you will also work through these new changes.”

Manage Your Team During Times of Change

While change can be challenging, especially in the workplace, it’s not impossible. As a leader, your job is to mitigate the challenges associated with change, both for yourself and your team. Use these leadership tips to do exactly that, navigating what will be just one of many changes as your company grows and evolves.

Jessica Thiefels is founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting, a content marketing agency. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications like Forbes and Business2Community. She also regularly contributes to Virgin, Business Insider, Glassdoor, Score.org and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.

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