Changes in the workplace take many forms. From a corporate merger to a new boss or computer system, transitions have the potential to make a significant impact, tipping the scale in both positive and negative directions.
How a leader approaches a transition is perhaps the most pivotal factor in determining its success. Because change is inevitable in today’s workplace, impacting the public and private sector alike, it is imperative for those in management positions to develop the necessary skills to lead a team through a transition.
When we work with executive coaching clients who are approaching a large-scale change in their organization, we recommend the following strategies:
4 Executive Coaching Strategies to Successfully Lead a Team Through a Transition
1. Be transparent — When possible, share information about upcoming changes with your team. Secrecy breeds insecurity and may lead employees’ minds to wander, as they speculate about what’s going on behind all those closed doors and how it may impact their jobs. That type of anxiety fuels the rumor mill and interferes with productivity.
By passing along updates directly to employees, whether in meetings or by email, you are showing them respect and keeping the lines of communication open. You may not have immediate answers to their questions, but you will become aware of their concerns, which will help you address them through the transition.
2. Avoid change fatigue — Implementing too many changes all at once can be overwhelming. One piece of executive consulting advice we frequently offer is for leaders to get a feel for how well team members are adjusting to incremental changes before heaping on additional modifications. Because in some office environments, a leader might work in a corner office away from team members, sometimes even on another floor, that might involve walking around the office or paying impromptu visits to check on progress and morale. Overload is a surefire recipe for frustration, which can be averted (or at least minimized) by introducing changes in manageable phases.
3. Offer support — Understand that, by nature, people are resistant to change for a number of reasons, from a general fear of uncertainty (“Am I going to lose my job?”) to concerns about competence (“Will I be able to use this new system?”). In order to successfully lead a team through a transition, savvy managers offer support on two levels: First, offer encouragement whenever and however possible. Be a positive advocate for change — while keeping your feet grounded in your team’s reality. Second, provide the necessary training and tools so that your team is prepared to handle the new environment, system or procedures. Tossing them in the water and expecting them to swim is not an advisable plan.
4. Adapt — A leader’s flexibility comes into play throughout a transition, but especially so in the consolidation, or final phase of implementing a change, according to David Garvin, a professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Garvin says that after an “honest assessment of what’s working and what isn’t,” the organization needs to be willing to tweak its plans. This step, often ignored, is just as — if not more — important than preparing to lead a team through a transition because it determines its long-term viability.