Leaders have been writing articles about the constant change of the modern workplace for several years, but since early 2020, there’s a general sense that change has only accelerated. Many leaders feel like they are constantly reacting to external forces, making it difficult to stay in control and make wise decisions. Employees are tired and craving stability but struggling to find it.
In this environment of constant and increasing change, overcoming obstacles can be even more challenging than when leaders plan and execute change wisely. When leaders have to pivot constantly, it may feel like there’s just not as much time to assuage fears and give people latitude.
Here are the six most common obstacles to change and how to confront them when change never stops:
1. No Vision = Confusion (“Why?”)
When planned, it’s often easier to connect change to a strategic plan or company vision. But if change pops up suddenly or requires drastic measures, how can leaders communicate the “why” of it?
Strategy: Connect the changes to the company vision, mission, or strategy as closely as possible. Communicate the change and the why clearly in multiple ways—through e-mail, chat, presentations, and meetings. Be sure to leave room for questions, and answer them as clearly as possible in a way that ties back to the vision or mission.
2. No Skills & Resources = Anxiety (“Can’t do it.”)
When change is sudden or reactionary, skills and resources may look different than under a planned transition. For example, when employees suddenly had to work from home in 2020, many didn’t have a space for office equipment, and those with children struggled to manage work and school from home.
Strategy: Ask employees what they need to cope with the changes. Whenever feasible, ask them individually, and encourage them to be candid. Executives should empower lower-level leaders to accommodate concerns or provide training and resources necessary to expedite changes.
3. No Engagement = Slow Change (“What’s in it for me?”)
It may feel like there is little to no time for slow change in a rapidly moving environment, but people who struggle with change will always be around. Leaders need to leave space for these employees to adapt.
Strategy: Prioritize communication, training, and accommodation of those most affected by the changes first, then other employees in decreasing order. Be sure to communicate all WIIFMs (“What’s In It For Me?”) along the way.
4. No Leadership = False Start (“Who decides?”)
The last thing a company needs in an environment of constant change is an unclear leadership structure. When markets are unstable, leadership structures must be as transparent as possible.
Strategy: From the very onset of change, clarify and communicate who will be responsible for each critical element. This step is especially vital if the change involves a shift in leadership. Make sure people know who to go to with questions, feedback, and concerns.
5. No Planning & Action = Roadblocks (“More rework.”)
When changes are sudden or rapid, roadblocks may be more common. In an era of constant change, you must update how you approach unforeseen obstacles.
Strategy: Companies should develop contingency and disruption plans to help them think through potential obstacles ahead of time. Slow down a bit, and take a step back from action before doing something that can’t be undone. Being cautious can often be the best way to avoid roadblocks and reworks. When rework is unavoidable, communicate clearly and openly.
6. No Measurement = No Learning (“What Progress?”)
In an environment of constant change, inputs are often never-ending. And when input is ceaseless, it can be tough to learn from it.
Strategy: Company leaders should meet periodically to evaluate learnings from past changes and integrate those learnings into future plans. Communicate learnings, outcomes, and results to the organization, and give opportunity for feedback.
People tend to avoid risk, change, and instability, but when the entire market is constantly shifting and changing, managers must learn how to lead people through the very thing they avoid. Leading in an era of constant change is challenging. Still, for those who communicate, act with intention and forethought, and listen to feedback, it is possible to keep the organization stable and thrive through the flux.
- What is one thing you’ve learned over the past two years that you can use to lead future change?
- How did the last change in your company impact employees? Did they come away more engaged or less? Did you lose people or improve retention?
3. Is there one way you can improve change communication in the organization?