Change is on everyone’s lips these days – it seems that we are all experiencing unprecedented change in our personal and professional lives.

What is so vital to understand about change is that it is not the actual change that is so hard to come to terms with, but the uncertainty that surrounds the change.

Change is often associated with stress because change impacts people in ways they do not anticipate or appreciate. Understanding how the brain reacts to different forms of stress can help us understand the natural reactions we feel and as leaders, help our employees and staff to unlearn the old in order to embrace the new.

Why It Matters

Our brains are wired for threat and the environment of change activates our amygdala, the limbic part of our brain responsible for survival.  And, although protecting our lives is an important function, the big problem we experience is that our brain cannot differentiate between a real-life threat and our negative thoughts that create threats due to uncertainty.

What scientists are finding is that the more we anticipate and prepare ourselves for stress and build resilience around uncertainty, the less our amygdala fires and the less cortisol (the stress hormone) is released into our bodies.  This helps us to cope better with change.

In my last post on mindfulness and why it matters, we explored just how you can practice building your resilience and managing stressful situations positively.

For leaders in organisations to fully leverage the changes your organisations go through, you have to fully understand what it means to leverage your staff and employees heads and hearts.

5 Ways to Embrace Change that leads to Transformation:

1. Create Context

By understanding that we are wired for threat, we can address the actual fears that people are dealing with around the change.  If you as a leader / manager can explain why change has to take place in a meaningful way to your staff and employees, you have a much better chance of changing the status quo. 

 If you can create a context for the change that helps your staff and employees realise that it is essential for business and therefore their own interests, you have a far better chance to get your change supported and implemented.

2. Address Uncertainty

In their book, Compelling People, John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut share a story about how Robert Kennedy prevented all-out riot and bloodshed the night he was supposed to be delivering a short speech in Indianapolis when he got the news that Martin Luther King had been shot.  In the space of an instant everything changed.  Instead, his short speech became a message being delivered by an outsider delivering the worst possible news to a mainly black crowd – a scenario where “shooting the messenger was not necessarily a figure of speech.

However, Robert’s combination of getting to the heart of the problem where he told them straight up about the bad news and then he addressed the shock, fear, and sadness of the crowd, acknowledging the difficulty of the situation where bitterness and hatred and a desire for revenge could understandingly be the result of their outpouring of grief.  In a few minutes, he was able to sum up, empathise and share in the sorrow the crowd was feeling and everyone went home.  Instead of the riots that subsequenty happened in over 100 American cities, killing 35 people and wounding several thousand more, the city of Indianapolis remained at peace.

Without words from you on the change that is about to come / is here, your staff and employees can only guess what you are feeling and whether you actually share the same or different opinions they do about the change.

Not every word moves people, but by painting a picture of the situation and addressing the feelings people are experiencing, you can change the emotional reality of your people.

3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Create a compelling message as to why change has to occur and then make sure you create a strategy to allow people to see, hear and experience these messages in a variety of different ways and settings – studies show us that we have to hear a message at least 6 times before we really start to recognise and realise its importance.  This is the reason that some marketing is so much more successful than others.

 Use your company vision and strategy as supporting evidence and communicate the vision in terms of the change required.

 Be sure to emphasize the “why” of the change – your staff and employees don’t care about the change as much as how it is going to benefit them personally.

 Continue to manage and understand the doubts and concerns of your people by opening up discussion.  It is important to remain open to employee concerns and address in terms of the need to change.

4. Help others Respond

Without your help to role model, support and guide your staff and employees, it can be difficult for your staff to know how to respond positively to change. If you can provide expectations of behaviour and approach and then provide support and coaching, you provide a framework for positive behaviour.

Walking your talk is critical at this stage of the change as people are uncertain of what new behaviours look like.  If you can clearly demonstrate calm and in control whilst in the midst of turmoil, you are more likely to have your employees and staff follow suit.

5. Learn to Switch Off

The amount of work it takes to implement a change into an organisation consumes all your time and energy during work hours – don’t let it affect the quality of your down time too!

Tackling change is a process that rolls out over time, it doesn’t happen overnight.  During the implementation process, it is important to ensure you are allowing yourself time to refresh and renew.

Some examples of how you could do this include:

  • Make sure you get at least 7.5 hours of sleep
  • Take up a hobby unrelated to work
  • Step outside for 5 minutes and walk around the block or through a park
  • Do not answer emails immediately, or before 9am, or on weekends, or during odd hours
  • Make sure you are eating properly
  • Take time to pause and reflect on how the change is going and its impact on your and others in your life

In Ending Off

Change is a natural process that opens up opportunity and allows innovation and growth at a personal and community level.  As managers it is our responsibility to understand our personal reactions to change and learn to embrace each change so that we can role model this in our teams.

We are naturally good at change but this does not make the change process any easier to accept when our amygdalla’s are collectively firing and creating overwhelm and negativity.

By using the 5 different tools I’ve given you, you have a starting point to work with your team around.

Your Response….

What other methods do you use to manager your own and other’s reactions to change – leave your ideas in the comments box below and let me know your thoughts….. 

Until next time, I will

See you at the top,

Kerry