Change is one of the few certainties an entrepreneur can count on in business. It comes in many different forms--whether hiring a new employee or moving to a new office or merging with another company. I've encountered all of these and more in my own company. For an entrepreneur, even a minor change can seem quite complicated and foreboding. And it may have big consequences.
Experience has taught me that there is only so much you can do to prepare for change. The real test comes in how you help lead your team through the change. Every person has unique thinking and behavioral preferences, and as a result, everyone will react to change differently. But a leader leads everyone--not just those who are on the same page as she is.
Here's what a good leader should say to effectively connect with people during turbulent times.
1. A Person's Name
We all share a basic need to connect with other people. And nothing appeals to our social senses like the sound of our own first name. A leader who uses a first name also knows the person behind the name--there's an implication of familiarity, trust, and respect. The difference may seem subtle, but "Nice job" and "Nice job, Mark" just aren't the same thing.
2. Nothing at All
Leading others through change doesn't mean you have to do all the talking. Some in your organization thrive on change and will relish the opportunity to express themselves; listen carefully to their ideas and alternatives. Others will have ideas but won't express themselves openly. Give them space to write about it.
No matter their behavioral preferences, your people will absolutely need to know the reason for change. People appreciate knowing the rationale behind a project so they can make their own judgments and asses the value of their roles.
4. Exactly What You Mean
And you need to mean what you say. The importance of integrity, clarity, and following through is critical during times of change. Mincing words, sugarcoating reality, or making unrealistic promises leaves room for misinterpretation at best, disaster at worst. Clearly define goals and expectations. If you say you're going to do something, make sure it gets done.
5. I Need Help
Empathic leadership opens the door to showing vulnerability as a leader, which can be an effective tool. You can admit you don't know it all. Employees will see this as a sign that you are not only approachable but also confident in their ability to contribute. So whether you need help structuring a process or weighing costs and benefits, or just need more ideas, don't be afraid to ask.
Once the need for change has been identified and ideas for moving forward have materialized into objectives, it's the leader's job to set forth the clear vision for how to get the job done. This is the road map--the rules, the processes, the definition, and the deadlines. The more structured thinkers in your ranks will appreciate it.
7. It's Going to Be OK
"It's easy to grin when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat. But the man who's worthwhile is the man who can smile when his shorts are too tight in the seat."
--Judge Smails in Caddyshack
Leading an organization in times of relative calm is one thing; in times of change, everyone is watching you more closely, giving more importance to what you say and do. Be a calming voice and exude poise, and your team will see that you are confident in the changes taking place.
8. It Depends
Change Management 101 says a third of the work force will be gung-ho about change, a third will be firmly against it, and the final third will be somewhere on the fence. Within each third will be a wide range of thinking preferences and reasons for their stances on change. One separate message per employee? Not necessary. But any given situation may require different strategies for communication.