Smooth Change Management is a critical skill to have for  a leader. “If it is not broken, do not fix it.” This axiom describes the human tendency to never question the effectiveness of our method as long as it delivers a reasonable amount of success. People, in general, prefer to stay with what has been tested and proven to work; because familiarity offers us security. It is safe; there is almost no danger of failing or risk of loss of self-confidence that follows failure.
Additionally, doing things the way we have always done them places the minimum demand on our abilities. The task has become routine and most of the process are on autopilot. This is in contrast to the anxiety created by entering a new experience or environment; we are forced to prove our proficiency all over again. The new situation requires more effort to learn new things and rise to another level of competency. And there is an underlying fear that we may not be good enough.
People are simultaneously eager for and afraid of change. We love change for the break in monotony it brings, the motivation it awakens in us and the new experiences it offers. But we fear change because of the demand it places on us to reassess and rearrange our lives. The trouble with change is that it makes us feel like we are no longer in control. Familiarity creates predictability, and even if we hate things to be predictable, we welcome the feeling of safety it provides.
But ‘Change is gonna come,’ especially in this age; change is not only inevitable, it is more frequent and more intense. The speed and scope of change is such that whole industries are changing many times within a single decade. And just as people and organizations start to feel that they have finally mastered the latest change, a new one is upon them. Then they have to readjust or discard what was just beginning to become familiar and start learning all over again.
The effect of all these is heightened organizational resistance to change as the people in them are caught in a vortex of anxiety that leaves them mentally and emotionally drained from the constant effort to keep up in order to remain relevant. So how do team leaders, who are also victims of the same environment, manage their teams through the dizzying rapidity of change? Is it possible to keep people motivated, innovative, and productive, in spite of prevailing uncertainty?
Team leaders must develop strategies for effecting change within a group. Regardless of whether the change is externally induced and inevitable or the result of top management decisions and actions, developing an effective approach is a necessity. Developing an intelligent plan of action will allow a leader identify the people and areas that will be affected by the change, estimate the possible reach of the impact, as well as, preempt team member’s reactions and prepare for them.
A change implementation and management strategy help the leader think through the impact of proposed changes. It makes it easier to identify and measure positive effects against possible negative outcomes. This way, the leadership can prepare the team adequately and ensure that it derives the greatest advantage from the coming changes.
Following are some important steps to take when introducing changes to a team or crafting a response to changing external conditions.
Understand The Current Situation: To effectively manage the new, you must have a full understanding of what already exists. Failure to clearly identify connections and relationships between people, processes or aspects of the work and organization will result in blind spots inside our change implementation and management plan. If you don’t know of the existence of a factor, you cannot predict the impact of the change on it.
Assess Risk: A change will not affect everything and everyone uniformly across the board. The impact on people, tasks or processes may be marginal or significant. Knowing where the greatest force of the change will be felt helps you to channel your change management efforts accordingly.
Identify Points of Resistance: Who are the people most likely to oppose the change and why? Your ability to anticipate possible arguments from members of your team will help you find the best possible responses. Bear in mind, that the intention is not to win the argument but to win people over.
Communicate: Anything new is viewed as strange and complicated. Help your team members overcome their anxiety by simplifying the complex issues. Also by persuasively outlining the reasons for the change, you will move people from viewing it as something you want them to do, to accepting it as something that needs to be done.
Pace Deployment: Implementing change too fast, too wide and too long will wear people out and destroy their motivation. To find a speed that is both timely, in that it meets organizational needs, and effective, because it gives individuals room to adapt, you need proper understanding of the effort required to deploy and teach, as well an assessment of individuals’ ability to learn.
Form Alliances: Get the buy-in of key members of the group. If it is a new technology, the expert in the team must sign on, or the effort is doomed to failure. Acceptance by the majority is not as important as the agreement of one key person. As a word of caution, some people will never buy-in, even key members of the group. Situations like that reveal the leader’s ability to negotiate relationship minefields by artfully combining tactfulness with authority.
Create Support: Teach people, train people, give room for mistakes, reiterate over and over again until everyone gets it. The team is a unit but the individuals that make it up have varying abilities. The plan for introducing and managing change must accommodate the ‘turtles’ and ‘hares’ in the group.
Engage in Team Building Activities: These will help to strengthen the bases of effective trust within the group which is usually what suffers the most when the group is disrupted by new events. By spending time on distracting and pleasurable activities, people are able to forget the stress and connect with each other as friends. This will allow team members get out of their adversarial mode of thinking.
Get help: Sometimes your best efforts will simply not be enough, this may be due to the following:
– You are just as unfamiliar with the new situation as your team members.
– The change is so complicated that it is not possible for you to effectively manage all the dynamics that will be associated with it
– The team is already struggling with the current situation and asking them to adapt to a new situation will result in even lower team morale.
In such a situation, it is often in the best interest of the organization to get a pair of fresh eyes to look at the situation.
Getting a neutral third party to carry out an objective diagnosis of your team’s performance is one way to start. Doing this will uncover the unseen factors responsible for team member’s inability to scale individual potential into team performance. It will identify differences and deficiencies in personalities and working styles, as well as recommend strategies for dealing with them.
Engaging a team coaching expert will also equip the team leaders and members with requisite skills to not only build an action plan but to also to follow it. Thus, making them responsible for the plan’s overall success and accountable to each other for keeping to agreed plans and processes.
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