Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Marcia E. Mueller linkedin.com/in/marciamueller1
Marguerite Ulrich linkedin.com/in/marguerite-ulrich
July 8, 2020
“When will things get back to normal?” We hear this question frequently as changes emerge daily. A global pandemic, economic disruption, technology innovation, renewed calls for social justice, and shifts in business priorities all set the stage for a future of non-stop change.
The fact is there will be no more normal. Continuous change is the new normal. Bain & Company (June 2020) notes that leading companies, “recognize there is no normal to go back to. Instead, (companies) advance into the new future, resisting the gravitational pull to their former state.”
Guiding others through constant change has become the foremost leadership trait to succeed. Informed by the change expert, William Bridges, and the Bridges’ Transition Model, leaders know that change is a transition that does not happen overnight. Employees move through three change phases of Endings (identifying and experiencing what will be lost) and the Neutral Zone (feeling the uncertainty of the middle ground between what was and what will be) on their way to a New Beginning (feeling stable with a new routine and direction).
However, today’s employees no longer face single, linear changes. Instead they must confront an ongoing cycle of change, repeatedly passing through these three change phases of Bridges’ model. Managing the human side of change, including feelings of loss or betrayal and behaviors related to denial or resistance, will be key.
Constant change can leave employees weary and unsettled as they repeatedly navigate the change cycle.
Three Change Management Tips
Recognizing constant change can leave employees weary and unsettled as they repeatedly navigate the change cycle. Effective leaders actively address the people-side of change. As depicted in our model, there are three actions that leaders can take to foster employee engagement and adaptability as employees grapple with constant change.
1. Communicate Change & Stability
Communicate a vision of change alongside
a statement of what is staying the same. Yes, priorities and practices are changing, but remember to also share the deeper values that remain stable, such as, a commitment to service, safety, quality, or other company value or tradition. Research by Venus, Stam and van Knippenberg published in HBR and the Academy of Management Journal (2018) reveals that employee support for change, “was higher when the vision of change was accompanied by a vision of continuity.” Reassuring employees that “who we are as an organization will be preserved.” Craft your message to include change and stability.
2. Connect & Engage
Change can bring stress, fear, isolation, rumors, and conflict, which can all be exacerbated by remote working. Stay connected with your team during change. Be accessible and plan formal and informal discussions to surface concerns or questions. Express personal interest and empathy as employees navigate the ongoing change cycle. Practice focused, emotional listening. According to Training Journal Magazine (2020), “The more you can listen, the better [your workforce] can function and adapt to new conditions or circumstances.” Leverage online tools and platforms to establish quality virtual dialogues. Strengthen the human connection and establish trust by expressing interest in others while keeping them actively engaged and informed.
3. Cultivate Optimism & Resilience
The cycle of ongoing change is filled with both opportunities and setbacks. Innovative leaders cultivate optimism and resilience in the face of adversity. Monitor your own reactions to disappointments and fuel a growth mindset in yourself and your team. Encourage and recognize those demonstrating key adaptability behaviors such as, trying new things, seeking solutions, learning from failure, and remaining persistent. Prepare employees with skills to effectively navigate the landscape of ongoing change.
In summary, Bridges states, “Change comes more from managing the journey than from announcing the destination.” Effective leaders must leverage the three key change management actions of communicating change and stability, connecting and engaging, and cultivating optimism and resilience, in order to manage the human side of change and build an engaged and adaptable team ready for the change journey.
The “New Normal” is a Myth; the future won’t be normal at all. Bain and Company, June 5, 2020 at: https://www.bain.com/insights/the-new-normal-is-a-myth-the-future-wont-be-normal-at-all/
Bridges Model at https://wmbridges.com/about/what-is-transition/
Research: To Get People to Embrace Change, Emphasize What Will Stay the Same. August 15, 2018 at https://hbr.org/2018/08/research-to-get-people-to-embrace-change-emphasize-what-will-stay-the-same
The power of emotional listening: To help leaders build emotional resilience during difficult times. Training Journal Magazine, June 22, 2020, at https://tinyurl.com/y8l4ml8c