Imagine the surprise felt by an executive director when the announcement that the organization is finally hiring that needed administrative support person for the program staff is met – not with excitement and joy – but with a litany of concerns: Who will be involved in the interviews? Maybe we should hire another program staff person rather than someone in a support position. Will we be able to sustain the position? How will others in the organization feel about our group getting this support?
Significant changes, even those that sound positive at an intellectual level, often meet with at least some resistance. In nearly every organization there are some staff who welcome change and others who will dig in their heels when anything new is contemplated and say “not one more change!”
Having a change-hardy, resilient culture has never been more important. The reality of the sector is that change is increasingly rapid and more frequent. Those organizations that can adapt to change are better prepared to succeed while those that ignore the importance of resilience will struggle.
The simplest definition of change-hardiness is the ability to bounce back quickly from the shifts and continue to move forward. The key words here are “bounce back” and “move forward.”
Depending on the nature of the change, it may be very difficult for staff to bounce back, such as when a layoff has occurred and friends and colleagues are now gone. Leaders can become impatient and wonder “Why aren’t people getting over it?” Sometimes leaders forget that they have been thinking about the change initiative (layoffs, merging, moving, etc.) for months and that the rest of the staff is still behind in their making sense of the change.
Even if staff has bounced back to a certain degree, there still may be lethargy to the organization’s attempts to move forward. Without a change-hardy culture, a leader’s attempts to rally the troops are likely to fall on deaf or disinterested ears.
So what can you do? Here are five straightforward ideas for how you as a leader can help your team successfully weather change:
1. Name it. Sometimes acknowledging the resistance, without judgment, is a good start. Reflect back clear, observable behaviors such as quiet staff meetings vs. robust ones of the past. Let staff know you see what is happening and you care enough to stop action for a moment and ask “What’s happening here?”
2. Listen. You have asked the question, and now you must turn up the listening dial. In many cases, staff are paralyzed because they have misinformation or incomplete information. You may be frustrated, feeling that you had already shared information many, many times. But for some, it takes longer to actually hear it. Again, use your reflective skills to hone in on what is actually happening.
3. Stimulate action. Find ways to take the concerns expressed and create action around it. Let those who raised the concerns participate in making the changes. Any successful change effort ultimately relies on a critical mass of people embracing the change, not just leadership. Actively engaging those willing to embrace the change as well as those who are more resistant is important to creating that critical mass. Patience is also necessary to allow people time to make the shift to accepting the change.
4. Report back. Let staff know how their suggestions or concerns are being addressed, by whom, and by when. Clear and consistent communication can relieve many of the anxieties inherent in change.
5. Tell the truth. Being transparent is so essential for building a change-hardy culture. Sometimes this is difficult because you don’t want to raise concerns unnecessarily. Other times there are confidentiality issues that need to take precedent. But when staff can count on getting the truth, it builds confidence and respect for leadership, making truth telling a powerful way to make your culture change-hardy.