For most people, change is stressful. Bad change is obviously stressful; but even good change can be stressful for some. But I’ve learned a secret principle when it comes to introducing change to people. It’s simple really. But I often see leaders still trying to use the old fashioned “my way or the highway” approach and that never has a great outcome.
The secret is this: Tell people about the changes ahead well in advance of any change actually occurring. They will still experience the stress of uncertainty that comes with any real change; but they don’t have to do that AND go through the actual change at the same time. Give them so much advance notice that by the time the change gets here, they’ll feel more like “…finally, can we just get on with this?”
Real situations I have led people through where this worked in an almost miraculous way include:
- Price increases to customers (Never surprise your customer with “So we’re going to be raising prices this month.”)
- Office layout changes: Who sits where or even moving the physical location of the office itself.
- My own role changing: Promotions for you may be scary for the team you lead if it means different levels of interaction from before.
- Changes in HOW we do things that we’ve done one way for a long time: People become more attached than we might realize to the old familiar way of getting work done, even when the old way hasn’t worked well in years and the new way will be far better.
A few more pro tips on communicating change are to communicate the changes to people at the right time. (very important) Also, you may have to communicate in advance of change that there is even a need for change. “Anyone else notice we are quickly running out of space to put new hires in this office?” And lastly, reassure your team that the change isn’t happening right now, that you are interested in their opinion on how to make the new way better than the old way, and that the change isn’t even a sure thing when you first start talking about it.
Talking about the change well in advance lets people process the emotion, the stress, without actually having to do anything different yet. They will appreciate the courtesy and you will reap the reward of having a less anxious, more unified team.