Monday, August 13, 2012

Leading Through Change

Change, unfortunately, is a fact of life.  Uncertainty, a kid sister to change, is always lurking in the background, waiting to say "I told you so," any time Change ends up making things worse rather than better. Is there a way to turn the annoying kid sister into a cheerleader when it comes to leading your team through the ever-changing business world?

Let's first look at what change means when it comes to business.

The economy is making staying in business harder and harder each day.  Businesses are having to do more with fewer people, less money, causing employees to feel unsettled in their jobs.  Gone are the days when you could be hired for a job at 20 and retire at 65 after 40+ years at the same company; heck, most companies don't last 40 years, let alone have employees who feel good enough about their prospects to stay on the job that long.

A side effect of doing more with less is employee burnout; who doesn't feel pushed to do more and more with the same or less pay, fewer resources, little or no support, like you're just thrown into the deep end of the pool without a life jacket?

Along with the added pressures at work of having to do more with less, at home, the situation isn't any easier.  The economy is also impacting us at home, with both spouses having to work longer and harder and if there are kids, there's little time left for the happy family life we all strive for, unless changes are made to achieve work-life balance.

Wait - work-life balance?  What's that?

I actually had an owner tell the staff of a company I worked for that work-life balance didn't exist at that company and if that's what you wanted, you needed to find another employer.  Seriously.

Anyway, as leaders, it's important we are aware of all the pressures put upon not only our companies but our team members.  Teams function well when everyone is on the same page, but if the pages keep changing, or the language on the pages becomes smudged because of shifting priorities, it's difficult sometimes to keep everyone aligned.

Here are some keys to keeping your team together and how you can lead everyone effectively, regardless of how stable the ground is on which you're walking:

  • Meet with your team regularly, both as a team and individually.  Only by knowing what's going on inside your team can you know how best to react to change.  If one person is nervous because of a home issue, you need to know that so you can help them feel at ease at work.  
  • Make your team a safe haven from the winds of change both in the business and at home.  We spend the majority of our days at work; wouldn't it be nice if it was as stress-free as possible?  Nothing is going to be completely stress-free, but by keeping things as stable as possible within the team, each member will know what to expect from day to day and can feel comfortable that you've got everythign under control -whether you really do or not.
  • Keep your team informed.  One of the biggest worries about change is the unknown.  Share with your team as much as you can, without compromising confidentiality or business concerns.  If you can't share something with them because it's not the proper time, let them know that.  Being kept in the dark is often harder, especially if your team thinks you know something.
  • Bring some lightness into the workplace.  Again, since we spend so much time at work, as a leader, it's up to you to bring a little bit of lightness into work.  Allow employees to have a touch of home at their desks, give days off randomly, hold raffles, give away lunch gift certificates - put a balloon outside your door for no reason.  Be silly!
By doing these simple things, you'll help lead your team through the rockiest waters business has to throw at you and you'll end up being closer, your employees won't feel so stressed when their days are over, and they'll be more productive.

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