It was Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said, “The only constant in life is change,” more than 2,500 years ago. This quote has stood the test of time for good reason: it’s true. In 2023 the pace of change and rate of uncertainty seems to be accelerating worldwide. Whether it’s industry transitions, corporate shake-ups, or the aftermath of natural disasters and a global pandemic, it’s a time of big feelings, emotions, and reactions as people grapple with the unknown. Whether you’re a CEO, executive, middle manager or team leader; whether you instigated the change or it’s being forced on you; you have a role to play in steering your people through the storm of change so they make it out the other side.
Leading through change is about people and to do it well you have to use your people skills. More heart, less head. It takes courage and requires human-centred leadership that balances warmth and empathy with strength and accountability. Why? Because organisations don’t change, people do and unless you deal with the feelings and emotions of your people and lead in a way they want to follow, the change you’re implementing will never succeed.
Communicating and leading courageously through change requires five key elements. They are:
Get clear on how you want to navigate the change, clarify your key messages, tailor them to your audience, and then provide that clarity to your team, explaining why the change is needed, why they should care, and why it’s beneficial for them to get on board. Even if you don’t have all the answers or know the detail about what the change is or how it affects your people, you can still create a level of clarity by being proactive and transparent in your communication. Keep your messaging simple, clear and concise.
CONNECT WITH CURIOSITY
Connect with your people, show them you care, and get curious about their feelings, concerns and responses to the change. This empathetic approach builds trust and ensures your people feel seen, heard and understood. The better you understand someone the more effectively you can lead them and you’ll be far less likely to be shocked by reactions, resignations and issues you never knew existed, until they blow up.
CHALLENGE WITH CANDOUR
Navigating change is hard but in the middle of the hard you and your people have a choice about how you respond. Reminding yourself and your team of this choice requires you to challenge mindsets, focus and behaviour in a candid and frank way. Absolutely, empathise with where your people are at, but you still have a responsibility to hold your people accountable for their performance. Don’t shy away from tough conversations during change but do remember to stay hard on the issue, soft on the person.
COACH WITH COMPASSION
Support and encourage your people to find their own answers to the challenges they face during change. Do this by making the time to meet one-on-one with your staff and having coaching conversations. It’s not about rescuing, problem-solving, pity, or providing quick-fix answers. It’s about asking questions, prompting reflection, and using future-focussed inquiry to help them steer themselves through the storm.
This is the chance for you as a leader to have a lasting impact on your team. Coaching conversations empower your people to take personal responsibility for finding their own solutions and compassion ensures they feel cared for and supported along the way.
COMMIT WITH CONSISTENCY
Leading through change is not something you do once. It’s not one conversation, one meeting or message. It’s a process that requires commitment and consistency, repetition and reinforcement. Many changes fail because they are over-managed and under- communicated. Change leadership and messages need to be instilled into day-to-day activities in new and varied ways. You need to keep banging the drum. You need to be consistent in your communication, behaviour and actions if you want to build trust so your people follow you through the uncertainty.
Picture this: change is happening and your people are processing their feelings, behaving appropriately, and still delivering results as part of a productive team. They may not like the change and still have concerns but they’re working through that with you, not against you. They are not stuck or bogged down resisting, blocking or arguing because they feel supported, cared for and understood.
Following the five Cs as a leader through change will help shift your team towards acceptance, allowing you to steer through the storm to calmer waters with your ship and your crew intact.
Leah Mether is a communication and soft skills trainer obsessed with making the people part of leadership and work life easier.
With more than 15 years’ experience working with thousands of clients, and an acclaimed book to her name, Leah knows what it takes to communicate under pressure. Like you, she knows the challenge of conflict, personality clashes, and difficult conversations.
Leah is renowned for her practical, engaging, straight-shooting style. Utilising her Five Cs® model of communication, she helps leaders and teams shift from knowing to doing, and radically improve their effectiveness.