All progress is the result of change. But not all change is progress. Some changes don’t make any sense. In fact, some leadership behaviors actually create more stress for yourself and your coworkers.
So what works?
Based on my 22 years of consulting and speaking to organizations around the world, I’ve found six things you must do to become an effective leader in the midst of change.
1. Don’t beat yourself up.
You did not cause the tough, changing times in your industry, and you could not have predicted all the changes coming down the pike. The nature of change is unpredictable.
For example, who could have predicted the change in fashion? Do you remember when clothing tags were worn on the inside? Now if you go to the malls, you will see many teenagers wearing them on the outside.
Who could have predicted the change in lifestyle behaviors between generations? Do you remember when safe sex meant your parents did not find out? Now some parents their kids for sex. Or, who could have predicted the change in the marketplace? The great movie mogul, Harry Warner, couldn’t in 1922, when he said, “Who the —- wants to hear actors talk?” The founder of IBM, Tom Watson, Senior, couldn’t in 1943 when he said, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” Ken Olsen, the President of Digital Equipment Corporation couldn’t in 1973 when he said, “There is no reason for anyone to have a computer in his house.” So don’t beat yourself up for not being able to predict or prevent tough changing times. This will deflate you, and you need to be out there motivating your colleagues.
2. Keep your coworkers’ hope alive.
Effective leaders project an optimistic view of the future, even during times of change. Your colleagues need to know that you believe a better day is coming. However, you also need to provide a realistic assessment of the obstacles that your organization must overcome in order to reach that better day.
3. Keep your employees fully informed.
You must keep your employees fully informed. In downsizing environments, the levels of uncertainty run high amongst employees. You must reduce their confusion, even if that means sharing some bad news. As I tell my clients, newsletter readers, and members in my speaking audience, the certainty of misery is better than the misery of uncertainty.
Your employees have the right to know what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what the next steps will be. By not sharing information immediately, you’re allowing the rumor mill to churn out any number of ridiculous stories that do nothing but increase stress and decrease motivation levels in the workplace.
4. Tell the truth
If you try to relieve your employees’ misery by saying things will calm down after the reorganization, you may be heading for trouble if that’s not the truth. Plus, the next time your organization announces a change your employees’ trust will take a nosedive. Employees need to be taught how to handle changes, not be told it will soon be over.
5. Continue to reassure your employees with your presence.
Dr. Bev Smallwood recently completed a best practices study on those companies dedicated to retaining their best employees. She discovered that sixty to seventy percent of employee retention is directly linked to management behavior.
In particular, managers that spend time with their employees and build relationships tend to keep their employees longer. If you want to retain your best employees during times of change, you must be visible. In uncertain times, seeing and hearing the leader is important. Too often managers or leaders only meet with other senior executives, or they disappear behind closed doors. Employees need to see and hear their bosses. So become accessible and make yourself available for questions.
Cut and simplify the work.
If you’re organization has downsized, you probably cut only the workforce, and not the workload. There’s a time when “doing more with less” makes a lot of sense, but there’s also a time when it’s just plain ridiculous. There comes a point when “doing more with less” is not only impossible, it’s absolutely demoralizing to keep saying it.
So what can you do? You can’t pretend things are the same. You can, however, reorder priorities on a task-by-task basis. You can cut extraneous tasks, forms, and procedures. You can encourage your associates to take shortcuts in non-critical, routine areas to make time for more important items. You can also allow your associates to collaborate and figure out how the extra work will be handled. In fact, the sense of teamwork that comes out of collaboration can be a great motivator.
That’s what Ameritech did. Executives from corporate headquarter traveled from office to office, from department to department, in one city after another. They queried fieldworkers on the types of reports that are necessary to complete their day-to-day activities. By listening to their fieldworkers, they were able to cut out 6,000,000 pages of reports that no one needed and no one read.