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How to Manage and Support Your Team Through Change  

Do we as leaders and managers really think about how people are affected when we bring in change?

Do we give them enough support through periods of change?

I think as leaders, we strive to and certainly try our best, despite all the conflicting demands on our time. However, if you feel like you’re struggling to ‘do change well,’ here’s my guide on how to manage and support your team through change.

Introducing the Change Curve

A good model to use to aid understanding of the individuals you are working with is “The Change Curve” based on the Kubler-Ross Change Curve. The Change Curve is based on a model that was developed by Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who used it to explain the grieving process that a terminally ill patient goes through when are given their prognosis. After developing the model, she said it could be applied to any life-altering situation, and in the 80s, it became popular in management circles to help people understand more about emotional reactions to change and the stages they go through.

Understanding the Change Curve

While the change curve is very useful in explaining the stages that people may go through when a dramatic change occurs, remember that it is a generalised model and not everyone will react the same, go through every stage, or spend as long in each stage.

Stage 1: The Initial Stage

When change is first introduced or mentioned, people’s first reactions can be shock and/or denial.

What You Should Do as a Leader/ Manager at this Stage

Communicate

Communication is vital but don’t overload people with too many facts. People need to know what the change means for them, what the impact will be, and they need general information on what it entails.

Leaders and managers work really hard at this stage and I’ve seen some good examples of great communication including leaders making time to attend team meetings to discuss the change and holding open-door meetings.

One tip I picked up along the way was to set up a flip chart near the teams affected so questions could be added as people thought of them. This keeps things anonymous, which results in more questions being asked. For remote or hybrid teams, this could be set up as an electronic document.

The one thing to remember is to be patient with each individual as everyone will move through the stages at different speeds. You just need to keep listening and acknowledging their concerns.

Stage 2: From Anger To Hurt Then Apathy

If the change is perceived as negative, there can be a lot of anger. People want someone to blame. This can then turn to hurt and there can be outright hostility, which eventually becomes apathy. This can create real disruption in a team. I’ve seen people in this stage creating mayhem with the rest of the team which in turn, affects performance and engagement.

What You Should Do As A Leader/ Manager At This Stage

Offer Time and Support

At this stage, people need time and support from their managers. This is often where it falls down for the individual. It can make individuals feel very alone and not understood if they aren’t given time. It can also make the person feel as if they have been discarded if they are moving to another role.

Involve People in the Process

Sometimes the person feels as if the change has been imposed on them and just involving the person, asking for their feedback, or involving them in the change process can make a huge difference.

Remind People of the Benefits of Change

It’s worth re-iterating the benefits of change to the individual. This should be continually reinforced so the person can absorb these.

Stage 3: The Acceptance Stage

The next step is acceptance, where employees are asking questions such as “What does this mean for my job?” or “How will the change make a difference?”

What You Should Do As A Leader/Manager At This Stage

Give People Time to Test the Change

It’s important to give the individual or team the time to test the change at this stage and feed into it. A key point to remember here is that performance will be lower as the team or individual is learning. It’s vital to ensure that learning has been developed ready for this stage. Remember people all learn at different speeds and in different ways.

Stage 4: The Integration Stage

This is where employees now know what they’re doing and the ‘new normal’ is becoming ingrained.

What You Should Do As A Leader/Manager At This Stage

Recognise And Reward Input And Success

Now’s the time to recognise successes and reward individuals for their input and ideas.

Managing Change Well is Crucial

As leaders, we are all so busy yet, but we still have to manage employees and give them our time and support during change. I’ve seen examples where someone is told they are moving departments and that’s it, the manager doesn’t bother with the person again or they fail to see the emotions the person is going through.  It’s at that very time that the person is feeling vulnerable and how the person is treated could make a huge difference for the future and the impact on the business. 

Additionally, while the person is still in their current role, they can do untold damage to the current team that the manager is often unaware of, leading to undercurrents and sub-cultures.  If the person is an influential team member it can create havoc. 

Also, the person may work for the current manager again in the future (especially when it’s a large organisation) and the impression and support the manager gave at the time of the change will remain in the person’s mind, influencing any future relationship. When support and time is given in times of change, it can help the person going forward. We all remember managers and leaders who did something we really rated, and we often follow their lead.

Are You Listening to Your People?

At times of change such as merging or take-over of businesses, leaders can think they are hearing the views of teams and addressing them, but are the leaders really listening and acknowledging concerns and issues? 

Do leaders and managers provide opportunities for true feelings to be aired? 

There needs to be a safe environment where people can air their thoughts without repercussions.  Communication representatives who can be trusted by the teams are usually the best way to pick up the issues and share things with the leaders. 

The leader and managers then need to demonstrate acknowledgement of the concerns and where they can, adapt the change or acknowledge how it feels to the team. This really builds trust and respect. The communication rep needs to know they can share feedback and that it isn’t taken as personally from them when conveying information to leads.

Always Consider How Change Affects Employees Emotionally

As a leader, do you consider the change cycle in your dealings with staff?  I’ve seen some good leaders who’ve acknowledged employees’ feelings and have worked with them and supported them through change.

I’ve also seen leaders who have not empathised and understood the vacuum the employee feels like they’re in, and how the person sways between different stages of the change cycle, from denial to acceptance and back again. 

Changes can take months to acclimatise to and during this time, employees can need more support through 1-2-1s.  They will be going through a range of emotions and with the right support they can quickly move through the cycle so you have a motivated and engaged employee again.

Need Help with Change or Feel You Could ‘Do Change’ Better?

Are you struggling to manage through change or feel like you need support to do it well?

My Leadership and Mentoring sessions are a safe and supportive space where you can talk about any issues that need exploring.

Together, we can put together an action plan to help you and your team to not just survive change, but thrive through it and beyond.

Sounds good?

Get in touch today for a discovery call.

Want to read more about change then this blog gives top tips to enhance your change agility

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