What is a Change Agent and does anyone REALLY enjoy change? Can you hate change and still be effective as a leader? Well, yes and no. You CAN hate change, but you certainly better not act like it! The fact is we’re all uncomfortable with change…especially when we’re really good at what we do. Change can be threatening, scary and sometimes just plain inconvenient. As a leader, not only do you have to deal with your own feelings when it comes to change, you also have to deal with those of your people.
So how do you do this?
Unfortunately, as a leader, you will be often called upon to communicate change to your subordinates that you yourself are struggling with. Maybe your organization is growing faster than you think is prudent; maybe you’re venturing into opportunities that are a little too risky for your taste, or maybe the new Director isn’t exactly whom you would have chosen. What is the appropriate way to address this? Communicating change you don’t agree with is really what separates the Change Agent from the Change Victim. And really, how you address it starts even before you communicate it.
First, are you being open minded? When the change has been communicated to you and you think it’s the stupidest thing you ever heard of, are you opening yourself up to the possibility that there (just may) be information you are not aware of that makes this all make sense? Have you considered the alternate points of view and set your own agenda aside?
It can be a really tough spot for leaders when you have done all this and you still don’t agree with the change. It can also be a career defining platform! You have an obligation as a leader of your company to present your point of view honestly and non-defensively. If the powers that be don’t accept your opinion, your obligation is then to let it go and endorse the change anyway. Hard to swallow? Yup! But what are your alternatives?
The one career killing move is to tell your boss, yes, you’ll make it happen and then badmouth the change to your peers and subordinates. This is deadly! First, no matter whom you swear to secrecy, make no mistake your opinion WILL get back to EVERYONE. Especially if it’s dissenting (People love conflict). Second, and more importantly to your status as leader, if you tell everyone that the change needs to be implemented but you’re against it, you make yourself look like a victim. As tempting as it is to side with your subordinates and commiserate about the stupid decision, this places you in their camp as a peer, not as a leader.
A leader will communicate the best news about even unwelcome change and help people still feel enthusiastic or optimistic about it. Does this mean lie to your people? No, of course not. But remember, there is a reason someone thought the change was a good idea. You need to communicate those reasons. If you just can’t ethically endorse the idea, you will need to at least endorse the necessity to give it a try. Even if it’s negative destructive change (like restructuring or downsizing) remember that there is a higher purpose to it. If you can’t get behind the change no matter what, this should be a huge warning sign for you. Maybe it’s a one-off, or maybe you’re in the wrong role or the wrong company.
The most important thing to remember when communicating change is that your people are probably afraid of the change and your job is to give them a reason not to be. You need to provide clarity and a vision of a better future for them so that they are able to walk through the change with confidence that things will improve as a result. You can’t do this if you are leading the anti-change party. That is NOT doing your people a service.
More on change soon. In the meantime, how do you deal with change? Drop me a line and let me know.