People are more likely to embrace organizational change when their leaders show them empathy.
Today’s guest post is by Zina Sutch and Patrick Malone, the authors of Leading with Love and Laughter: Letting Go and Getting Real at Work (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
There’s no doubt about it, organizational change can be frightening. Yet – change is constant and it is imperative that organizations continue to evolve in order to meet the complex challenges of a modern world. But people don’t always adjust well to change, so it should come as no surprise that it is difficult for most to think about change in the workplace. Before we grab ahold of this new existence, new reporting pathways, and new organizational structures, we must first understand what this change means at the human level.
Change impacts people at the most intimate level. We are all born with genetic need for consistency and constancy. Predictability and autonomy matter as well. The human workforce like to know they have some control over events unfolding before them. It provides a sense of comfort. Sadly, as senior leaders drive change in the organization, they often forget that organizations are made up not of boxes and lines, but of people with hopes, dreams, and fears.
In order to safely and effectively execute change in our organizations, our planning has to go beyond office space, IT support, plexiglass walls, and mask requirements. We need to begin by assessing the readiness of our workforce. Our workers are not positioned, emotionally or otherwise, for rapid and unpredictable change in their work environments. And just because we as leaders recognize the need for change, it does not mitigate the real fears present in those we lead. Leaders must take this into consideration when planning for the new workplace. In order to ensure success, consider the following steps:
Begin with empathetic listening. People need to feel like they are heard and understood and everyone’s experiences with change brings its own unique pain. Simple acknowledgment and understanding on the part of bosses is not enough. Leaders need to show empathy through patient and active listening. Accommodate their needs and allow for conversation that meets the specific needs of each of our team members.
Work to establish trust. Trust matters during time of change. Now, more than ever, it is important to nurture trusting relationships that exist and build those that don’t. Our workforce has been exposed to a wide array of disparate views on politics, the coronavirus, and most other topics for the last many years. They need and deserve the comfort of trust and they look to the leadership of our organizations for guidance and consistency. Be that beacon.
Recognize stress. Having people return to work will increase a stress level that is already off the charts. Over 75% of Americans report being stressed and change makes this even worse. When employees are under stress, productivity, work performance, and engagement levels decrease. It is incumbent upon our leadership to provide outlets for stress relief and options for employees to seek assistance in dealing with this extraordinary anxiety.
Don’t be afraid to show love. Real relationships allow us to get in touch with the human being that works for us, recognize their needs, concerns, and become one with them. This requires love. Not romantic love, that puppy love. Rather, the love we feel for another human being who we respect and admire. Show your team the love you have for them, and authentically acknowledge their fears.
Laugh a little. Employees want and deserve joy. This is why it is so crucial that we tap into laughter and humor in the workplace. Even in the most difficult of times, a little humor will allow us to share similar experiences, lighten the mood, and build bonds across the organization. Leaders who laugh or more approachable, seen as more confident, and are more respected.
Most employees, when nurtured properly, are excited to help create a new future and they are better equipped to do so than ever before. Think about it, our teams are by now skilled in the virtual aspects of their job and they had already mastered the in-person components prior to the pandemic. Why not give them the chance to combine both? But before we do, let’s give them a chance to be human. Let’s give them a chance to share their fears and their concerns. And then, let’s treat them to some kindness, compassion, and little patience. Create a safe and joyful space where they want to be, not where they have to be. The result is guaranteed to be a better motivated and more engaged workforce that embraces change.
Zina Sutch has been leading development and diversity programs for the Federal government for 20 years, and currently serves in the Senior Executive Service. Patrick Malone spent 23 years in the Navy and served as an officer in the Medical Service Corps. Zina is a faculty member and Patrick is director of the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University. Their new book is Leading with Love and Laughter: Letting Go and Getting Real at Work (BK Publishers, Inc., May 25, 2021). Learn more at sutchmalone.com.
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