This is the transcript of Episode 3 from a post-pandemic business series requested by a South African radio station. The recording is available here.
Leading a business often means you have to make decisions that will force others to change the way they do things. These decisions and changes in life and business are inevitable, but as a leader there are a few things you can do lessen the discomfort of the change.
It helps to know how different people respond to change. A quick Google search can give you quite a bit of insight, and can help you to adjust your communication to accommodate as many as possible preferences.
The most important thing I’ve learned about change in an organisation is that we shouldn’t just give people the tools they need to do things in a new way; we should also teach them how to break old habits and establish new habits.
Communicating change is therefore not a once-off occasion; it starts with the announcement of things that are going to be different but then has to follow up regularly with check-in sessions that helps everyone deal with the discomfort of change.
Let’s start with how to make the announcement about a big change.
Many experts recommend that you include as many as possible people in the decision-making process. This sense of inclusion makes it easier for people to stick with the change even when things get tough.
There are however times where business leaders have to make decisions really quickly, or where a process of consultation will only make the decision harder. The only thing left to do then is to be really good at communicating the changes to those that will be affected by it.
First off, explain what led to change being necessary. Even if you suspect everyone already knows, it’s good to explain it from your point of view.
Then give an overview of what you kept in mind when considering the various options. This will allow others to understand that your decision wasn’t taken lightly and only with yourself in mind.
When you announce the actual change do so in a way that is clear and concise. Speak in terms everyone can understand and stick to practicalities. People often care less about what will change and more about how it will affect them, so be sure to tell them what the impact will be.
It’s no use trying to hide or sugarcoat the hard effects of change; it might feel easier for you in the moment, but it creates distrust and false hope that you WILL have to deal with later. Rather be open and honest with everyone right from the start.
Different people will have different reactions to the announcement. Some might want to immediately try and convince you that change isn’t necessary. Some might be quiet and seemingly accepting only to respond a few days later with a long list of concerns. Some might keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves and quietly boycott the change. Others might actually become champions of the change and help you drive it. All of these responses are completely natural, and you should be prepared to take it in your stride.
Announcing a change is only the first step in a much longer communication process. You should also have a schedule for how often you’re going to check in with your team to see how things are going and to listen to constructive feedback. Share this schedule with everyone so they know that they will continue to have opportunities to be heard.
Remember that each person processes change in a different way and at different speeds. As leader, you are responsible for finding a balance between being compassionate about natural resistance to change while still maintaining the discipline it takes to ensure that the business survives and thrives.