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Managing change: It takes a team

Rena Striegel for Progressive Forage Published on 27 December 2018
Managing change

Discussions about change happen all the time. How do we plan for it? What should we say about it? How do we lead our team through it? Will it be seen as positive or negative?

Research shows that resistance to change is caused by several factors such as misunderstanding, fear or the unknown, low trust and lack of communication. Despite the fact that change is often positive, exciting and good for the future of the operation, people often see change as a threat. This is particularly true in family-owned operations.

Studies show that people have a tangible preference for things that have been around longer. So when we approach a discussion about change by starting with what is wrong with the current state of the operation, it fuels these fears because it signals the change will affect fundamentals they have come to identify strongly with.

In two recent studies on change leadership, it was found that leaders who were able to communicate a vision of change, in combination with a vision of continuity, were less likely to experience a strong wave of resistance to change.

When developing your strategy for managing change:

1. Identify how big the change will be. Change is much easier to adapt to when it is positioned as something that has been thought through. When positioning your operation to undertake a change – big or small – it is critical to identify “what” will change and “who” it will affect. If multiple departments are involved or a process is being changed, it is imperative to get input from your team.

Listening to their ideas and concerns will go a long way to enlist their buy-in and support. If new technology is being introduced, being able to communicate the transition plan and ensuring people are adequately trained will reduce the stress associated with learning something new.

2. Give your team adequate time to prepare and make sure you lay out the timeline for implementing the change. The more prepared they believe you are, the less stressed they will be. It is also important to set clear expectations around who will be involved in implementation.

Employees who are involved initially will have a tendency to feel left out if they are not kept informed as the change initiative progresses. Keep in mind, you cannot communicate too frequently as you move through a change initiative. If the change is comprehensive and involves multiple people, make sure you set up meetings on a frequent and ongoing basis so the team stays informed and problems can be identified early.

Don’t overlook the importance of including your team in the discussion or decision to implement change. Often, their insight will enable a change initiative to be implemented more easily and with fewer errors. It is important to remember that employees who feel they are taken into consideration and asked to provide input are far more likely to get behind a change rather than resist it.

3. Don’t avoid the tough stuff. Be prepared to answer tough questions and help your team deal with their feelings of concern, fear and resistance. Your staff may be living with the belief that “the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.” When this phenomenon occurs, emphasizing how their role will remain the same is critical.

Being available to address their concerns will also help encourage them to come to you when something breaks down in the change process. If your team feels that you are unapproachable, they may take the initiative to fix it on their own or they may ignore the problem. In either scenario, you may end up with an outcome that is less than optimal and will end up costing the operation time and incur additional expense.

4. What will stay the same? Remember, placing emphasis on the fact that change is happening because something isn’t working will only increase stress. If your team feels the change is in response to something they are responsible for that isn’t going well, you will be met with defensiveness and resistance – even if what you are proposing will make their job easier.

Reassure your team that the change will enhance and complement what they are already doing well. Using a communication strategy that allows them to see how a change is going to allow the operation to be more competitive, resilient and agile is important in reducing the fear that their contribution has been inadequate, especially if you are automating something that has been done manually.

If a change needs to be implemented quickly, it becomes even more critical to rally your team, gather input and enlist buy-in. Teams that develop change management processes will find their response time in both analyzing an opportunity and implementing something new will reduce as they become more effective in responding to change. In most cases, however, change opportunities can be identified in advance.

Keep in mind that identifying how pervasive the change will be, informing your team early, leaning into tough conversations and emphasizing what will stay the same are key steps in ensuring your team and operation will move through change in a way that promotes buy-in and teamwork.  end mark

ILLUSTRATION:  Illustration by Getty Images

Rena Striegel
  • Rena Striegel

  • President
  • Transition Point Business Advisors
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