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When you need to help your team through change: 3 main manager responsibilities
Change is very personal. There is no way around it. As we talked about last week, there are things we can do individually to help accept and handle change at work. As people managers, we have a special role in helping with change and our teams.
For those people managers out there, we know we are not always kept in the loop on what is happening, why, when, how, etc. However, we need to do what we can to get those answers for our team and ourselves. And, as we will discuss next week, we'll talk about what leaders can do to set up the change for success across the organization.
People managers are the linchpin to successful change. Most people rely on their managers for not only team-related priorities, goals, and information but they usually trust their managers more to give them the skinny on what is going on.
I work with many organizations and teams on managing and effectively communicating change -- be it system implementations, re-organizations, mergers and acquisitions, process changes, and more. There are many stakeholders to involve in projects like these, but the managers of the teams the most impacted are the ones I spend the most time and attention on.
Managers can make or break the success of a change, and there are some key things they can do to help their teams with whatever the change is. The other item to keep in mind is that a change can be big like the others I listed above, or very small. We should not underestimate the impact of small changes as well.
I will never forget one time in a team meeting, we had a person from another team at the table and it was announced in front of everyone that she was moving to our team. Yay! Amazing, right? Well, no one told this person. The team announcement was the first time she was hearing this news. And, while positive, she felt very slighted as this was a very big change for her and should have been told first.
Another seemingly small change I was involved with was that a large project was being assigned to the team. The team leader decided right away who should be staffed to the project based on his opinions of skillsets on the team. This seemingly small decision had ripple effects across the team. This was a huge project that changed the scope of the team and gave the person appointed to lead the project a real boost to her career. This left others feeling pretty low about themselves and their career prospects.
This manager could have handled this seemingly positive change a bit better and could have allowed others to throw their hat in the ring for the project lead position. They may have still been disappointed, but they would have had the chance to put their best foot forward. Or, at least, have received an explanation about the decision.
Here are 3 main actions managers can take when big or small changes impact the team.
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I know. So obvious! But, if you read my too smaller examples above, communication, let alone candid communication, doesn't always happen. I always assume good intent here, meaning managers don't mean to not communicate. Perhaps they are moving quickly and this is one of 15 items on their list. I get it. Perhaps they are not always informed themselves. If time is the reason, we need to cross that one off the list. If you skip communication and a little transparency up front, you spend more time during and after the change dealing with the angst, confusion, and potential disengagement of your team. Like most efforts, spending a little time planning and writing down/typing up some actions, like carving time for communications, can go a long way in making change successful.
Lead by example
Change is hard. We know this. The best thing you can do as a manager is to lean into the change, support it, and even advocate for it. If your team hears you put down the change, dispute it, disagree with it, and even refuse to embrace or adopt it, they will too. Most team members take their lead from their manager. You must lead by example on this one. Now, if you indeed disagree with the change, then talk with your manager or leader. Decide if it is a hill you're willing to die on. If it is, by all means, have a candid conversation, but don't do it in front of your team. Some big changes will happen whether you're on board or not. That is tough. But, as my mom's favorite author says, John Ortberg, "If you can't get out of it, get into it." For your own sanity and health, lean in any way and show your team what we can do as a result of the change.
Help manage resistance
Managers can also help manage change by coaching and supporting their team members "get into it". Have one-on-one conversations with each team member to see how they are perceiving and feeling about the change. We sometimes skip this step. I know I have in my career and then I regret it. Some people may embrace change; others may resist it. Find out how they feel it will impact their role and if they are supportive, opposing, or even apathetic. You can then work with each person to help overcome their specific objections. I recommend doing this individually and not as a team. This will take more time, but depending on the scope of the change, it will be time well spent.
Change is hard and personal. People support what they create so if you can involve those impacted in the change in any way, try to do that. Work with each of your team members, flex your listening skills, and remember that some changes may feel small but can be perceived as big so don't shortchange communication.
Next week, we'll look at organizational-level change and what leaders can do the set the stage and equip the managers to help.