The Do’s and Don’ts of Managing Through Change

August 29, 2023

Want to equip yourself, your leadership team and your people managers to serve as credible, confident, consistent and reliable sources of support and information? There are a few simple but powerful things you can do to make this a reality. The results: keeping the team focused and helping to make change easier to accept (even in the absence of concrete details).     

Here are eight ways to effectively keep your direct reports and/or team focused, engaged and feeling good about their work and the direction of your company.   

How To Support Employees During Times of Change  

  1. Share What You Can 
    The tricky part of this tip is that quite often you can’t share the critical details employees want to hear – likely because they haven’t been determined or fully fleshed out yet. Share what you can but be honest in telling team members what you don’t know or can’t share.   
  1. Be Timely with Sharing Information (But Not Hasty) 
    Get available information to your team or direct report(s) promptly, but don’t sacrifice accuracy. Ask your manager for the appropriate, current messaging to use when communicating with your team(s). Anticipate what questions may be asked and be ready with answers (if possible).  
  1. Relate the Message to the Action 
    Aside from sharing the "what" and "how," be sure to invest time into providing context to help people understand WHY the changes are happening.  The context can be critical to gaining support and maintaining trust during the change.
  1. Be Visible and Check In 
    Take a little extra time to check in with your team, even if it’s a quick email or office drop-in. Equip managers with resources, and give them permission to reserve extra time for their teams. We encourage taking it a step further and being visible for a Town Hall or Ask Me Anything (AMA) so that your people have multiple channels for asking questions and having their concerns addressed.
  1. Listen and Invite Questions
    Listen carefully to what your team is saying to you and to each other, acknowledging both practical inquiries and emotional responses. As you speak with team members individually or at meetings, take a minute to ask if they have questions or topics of concern.  
  1. Keep People Focused on Their Work
    Change is tricky and it's important to recognize that productivity can decrease during periods of change. Now is the time to remind your team of the purpose and value of their work – and provide support to help keep them focused on the tasks at hand.  
  1. Encourage Space for Reflection  
    Recognize that change can be emotionally impactful. Encourage your team members to take short breaks if needed to process the change. Providing a supportive environment that allows them to digest the news in their own way may help them return with a clearer perspective.   
  1. Be PositiveBut Genuine
    Times of change are excellent opportunities to remind team members of the reasons they believe in the work they are doing and your organization's mission and vision. Tell your team why you are excited about where the company is headed.
Learn how to create effective manager tools

❌ What to Avoid Doing During Times of Change   

  1. Don’t Hide Out or Stop Communicating With Your Team
    It’s easy to want to hide under your desk when you know your team has questions and you don’t have answers – or you have answers that may not be well-received. Going off the radar may cause employees to worry unnecessarily – and that speculation can snowball!  
  1. Don’t Make Up Answers 
    You will feel pressure to give information to your team. If you aren’t sure of an answer to a question, take time to find out the answer and share it later. Letting them know you don't have the answer but will work to find it is clear and kind. If the answer doesn’t exist yet, let the team know that, too.   
  1. Don’t Dismiss Their Concerns or Feedback 
    Take time to actively listen and validate what they are saying. Avoid dismissing feedback, even if it’s critical or challenging, as doing so may create frustration and undermine trust. Show that you hear them, understand their perspective and value an open dialogue.  
  1. Don’t Slow Down
    Lead by example, staying focused on day-to-day work, making time for your people, and keeping your people on track to hit their goals.  
  1. Don’t Be Unrealistic
    While it’s important to stay positive and optimistic, you also need to acknowledge that change is hard.  While you may have had prior knowledge of the change that's coming and time to prepare, your people need more time to process and work through questions, concerns and emotions.

5 Additional Resources for Managers   

Managing people is a journey of continuous growth. Below are some resources to further enhance your skills in leading with empathy through change. These insights will equip you with practical insights, valuable strategies and expert perspectives, empowering you to guide your team through transitions with compassion and confidence. 

How to Develop More Empathetic Managers (All Hands by Lattice Podcast)  
  • When Managers Ask: "How do I act as a coach and invest in growth when we can’t make the typical promises (bonuses, raises, promotions…etc.)?" Managers should commit to helping their direct reports find growth opportunities that get them to where they want to be.
  • Exercise for employees: Ask your direct report to find a job listing that they really want in 3-5 years. And then ask, “Which of these responsibilities do you feel like you don’t have a story to tell?” From there, commit to your direct report that when these opportunities come up, or if you can create them, you will do that for them.”
How to Embrace Change Using Emotional Intelligence (Harvard Business Review)  
  • This article shares the experience of change from the employee’s perspective, which helps managers and leaders take on a more empathetic approach.   
  • Resistance to change can become exacerbated by the burnout caused from worry, frustration, helplessness and other feelings that come from transition. This article lays out four emotional intelligence strategies for helping employees become more adaptable and embrace change.     
Managing Transitions (William Bridges)
  • This resource is an oldie but a goodie. The psychology of change and how to bring employees along in stages with empathy holds up beautifully even today and is worth a read.
Authentic Empathy (Earnst & Young)
  • This article eloquently breaks down what it means to be authentically empathetic. What’s key is that authenticity and vulnerability should go beyond a simple talking point at a team meeting. This starts with leaders committing to a continuous transformational journey to learn about themselves so they can lead with genuine empathy.   
5 Ways To Lead in an Era of Constant Change (TedTalk)
  • In this insightful talk, organizational change expert Jim Hemerling emphasizes the importance of embracing change, leading with empathy and creating a sense of purpose for your team during times of transition.    

Navigating Change Requires Empathy  

Change is the only constant, and effective leadership during these times is crucial. So, remember to follow the do’s - say what you can (and ONLY what you can), be available to your team, and put your listening ears on! And avoid the don’ts - make up answers to questions, dismiss feedback or be overly optimistic.

By following the actionable do’s and avoiding the common pitfalls, you’re not just managing change; you’re leading your team towards success. Need some support to prepare your team for upcoming changes? We’re here for you! Reach out to us, and we’ll let you know how we can help.   

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