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iManage, Issue #016 - 3 Steps to Managing Change in Uncertain Times
November 02, 2010

3 Steps to Managing Change in Uncertain Times

I recently met Andrew, a business owner who was going through a difficult period. His business was losing money and he had decided to make a number of his staff redundant. Not only that, but he needed to get existing staff to take on extra work. He was struggling with how he was going to manage this important change.

If like Andrew, you have to make changes that you know will not be welcome, here are three steps you can take to help you manage the process:

Have a clear vision and strategic intent

In uncertain times, strong leadership is key. Employees need you to be confident about the future and clear about the direction you are taking. Picture your end goal and communicate that vision to your employees. Set milestones so that you can both see progress and outline the steps that will get you there.

In ideal circumstances, employee input into the direction you are taking is very valuable; if you have only a short window in which to make change, then they will expect you to be more decisive.

Realize that resistance to change is normal

Research shows that we all resist change - and the time we need to accept it varies depending on the situation and the person involved. Empathy is important in the early stages, and you will need patience as people struggle with denial, anger and depression. When they start to ask about how the change might work, then you know they are ready to move forward.

Some people naturally embrace change whereas others are more fearful and cautious. Work with your change champions to help sell your message, and listen to those who may have valid objections that you may need to consider.

Communicate using the right method, symbols and language

Changing circumstances often create strong emotions, so you need to get your message across in a sensitive way. Use a variety of methods, such as one to one discussions, group discussions, circulars etc. Recognise that sensitive information can be misinterpreted through the written word alone - so meet as many people as you can to help get your message across in the way it was intended.

Be aware of the symbols you use; you may say that everyone has to work together to get through the crisis - but if your employees feel they never see you, it dilutes the message. If you ask for ideas from staff, do they get feedback on what happens to those ideas? If not, that can be seen as a symbol of "token engagement".

Think also about the language you are using to communicate - is it too casual? too formal? too negative?

If you are facing a similar situation to Andrew, you may be struggling with a fear of the future just as much as your employees. It takes strength of character to deal with change in uncertain times; following the steps outlined above will help you move forward.

If you want to learn more about managing change in the workplace, look out for our free Change Webinar and companion How to Manage Change Workbook which will be launched in the next few days.

In the meantime you can find more information in the Managing Change section of our website. You will also find a forum where you can get answers to your personal questions regarding change, or give advice to others.

Best wishes

Ann Halloran

Practical Management Skills

Practical management skills advice for business owners and managers. Get best practice tips on a wide range of topics such as time management, leadership, communication skills, managing change and more.

Content based on 30 years management/consultancy experience gained in a wide range of business sectors.

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