How do humans manage change?
Poorly. Most of us think we navigate change pretty well. The truth is we generally don’t do as well as we think we do. We’re better able to navigate change when we have some level of control over that change.
Think about moving house. If moving house was your choice because you wanted a bigger place or are moving in with a partner, it’s exciting and fun. If you’re moving because you were evicted it can be overwhelming and upsetting. Where are you going to go? What if it’s not in the same location? What if it’s not as nice?
The workload and stress are the same in both situations. The admin, time away from work, packing, hiring removalists and hoping they don’t break your great grandmother’s clock, and the hunt for towels, sheets, and cutlery the first night. The difference between the two scenarios is your level and control in that situation and consequently, your perspective.
Our workplaces are no different. When change occurs in our workplace, we often struggle to navigate it. And due to somewhat outdated professional standards of behaviour, what starts out as something exciting ends up being a disaster.
I was working in an office space with twelve people. One day our manager called everyone to a meeting. We were told that we needed to expand our staff to over double its numbers. I remember sitting in the staff meeting, thinking to myself “where is everyone going to fit?” As soon as the thought occurred, we were told that would mean we would be moving offices. Almost immediately, everyone reacted negatively. Not only would our lovely little team be doubled, but we had to move too!
So started a significant period of stress and organisational trauma. One of the things I noticed in this period of time was the significant downturn in our productivity completing our actual work. Mostly because we were all so caught up in the trauma. Who would these new people be? Would they fit into our work place? What if we weren’t as close anymore? Would they ruin our relationships? Where would we be moving to? What would it look like? Would there be toilets? What about a kitchen? What about parking?
A lot of different factors were changing and uncertain for our workforce, and unfortunately, with stress and trauma being contagious, we kept infecting each other and increasing the stress of the situation. Despite all being educated adults with a vast spread of resources at our fingertips, we couldn’t stop ourselves from getting caught in the vortex of trauma.
What we needed to navigate this time was someone who could lead us through with a strong understanding of how to help people navigate change while keeping them feeling safe, validated and seen because the reality was that we had no control in the situation, which made us all feel out of control. Just like if we were evicted from our home.
Change happens in all areas of our lives. Making sure that we navigate change in our business with as little stress and disruption as possible requires three things:
Transparency – People do better when they know what is happening. Giving as much information as possible and appropriate. This could be things like timelines, possible outcomes and planning for possible outcomes.
Assertiveness – be prepared to address concerns. A good leader doesn’t shy away from hard questions. Your team will feel validates and relevant, rather than just a number.
Safety – This can look like a timeline for change, delegation to people with relevant skill sets to the change or guidelines about the process. If your team feels like you are being honest, validating them and making them feel safe through the transition period, the likelihood is much less disruption, resentment and negativity next time change comes knocking.