The Positive Way to Successfully Navigate Change

If there’s one unifying theme so far in 2020, it’s change!

It seems that just about everyone has had to make adjustments, change how they’re doing business, and get creative in coming up with solutions to previously unimagined problems.

While change often brings growth, we all know it can be difficult and painful.

So, how can positive leadership help as you continue to navigate through so much change?

Well, no surprise here…it’s all about how you, as a leader, approach the situation.

In fact, the research shows that how you think about your employees in the context of change is a crucial factor in how successful the change will be.  Work done by Scott Sonenshein, a leading organizational researcher, shows that when you treat your employees as resources and not resistors, change is more successful.  Not only that, employees become even more valuable to the organization and invested in its future.

Let’s pause for a moment and digest this concept, because I think Scott has really turned the whole concept of organizational change on its head.

He says, treat employees as resources, not resistors.  Wow, that’s powerful, isn’t it?

So, what exactly does that look like?  Well, he gives us three techniques that can make change not only less painful, but, possibly even enjoyable—what a breath of fresh air!

#1. Encourage employees to take ownership at work and to experiment.  Granted, this requires trust from you as the leader. You need to take a step back.  Don’t micromanage, because that’s a surefire way to not have employees experiment or own their work.  Instead, create an environment in which people are encouraged to try out new approaches and get inventive.  Scott gives the example of a retail company that was struggling to sell a particular dress in all its stores.  One store manager decided to cut the straps off it and sell it as a beach coverup.  What happened?  It sold out.  The manager had been resourceful in repurposing and relabeling the item, and when he was asked why he did this, he said the owners of the company always encouraged them to “take responsibility for what we were doing…and [they] give us a lot of flexibility.”  So, be the positive leader who encourages team members to cut off the straps and experiment.  Now, more than ever, we need this type of creativity and initiative-taking.

#2. Emphasize benefits and the vision.  In any change process, employees are going to be uncertain, possibly even fearful of what’s about to happen and how it might affect them.  Remember, we are programmed to focus on the negative possibilities, not the positive ones.  So, it’s your job as a leader to:

  1. Be open and honest about what is changing and what is not, so people have an anchor of familiarity to hold onto.
  2. Highlight the benefits of this change—answer the age-old question that everyone is always inwardly asking themselves in these situations: how is this going to affect me? Usually people are dreading the worst, but you need to make them see how it is going to positively affect them.
  3. Paint a complete picture so that your team understands why the change is happening and how it fits with the long-term vision.  This might seem obvious right now when the goal is that we get to keep our jobs and the company survives the effects of this pandemic.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer encouragement and communicate the value of your team’s contribution in meeting that goal, so they feel truly invested in the effort.

#3. Match Value and Urgency.  Just as I mentioned in the last point, it’s important to emphasize your team’s value and how important they are to the change process.  Let them know they matter, because they really do.  Let’s face it—you can’t possibly implement change successfully without their willing cooperation.  So, let them know that!  At the same time though, you have to communicate the urgency of the situation to underscore the need for them to bring their A-game now.  What this looks like is communicating the seriousness of the organization’s challenges, but reassuring them that with their resourcefulness and support, we can do this.  Note the emphasis on we.  This has to be a collaborative effort, and you want your team to feel like we’re all in this together.  So, don’t say “I need your help,” or “the company needs your help.”  No.  It’s that we all need each other’s help to get through this.

Use these three simple steps to help you apply the principles of positive leadership so that you can navigate change more smoothly and successfully.

If you want more from Scott about navigating change, check out his chapter devoted to this topic in the excellent book, How to be a Positive Leader: Insights from Leading Thinkers on Positive Organizations, that was compiled by organizational researchers Jane Dutton and Gretchen Spreitzer.

And, for a deeper discussion on this topic, tune into my podcast episode, The Positive Way to Navigate Change.

Let me know how you’re leading during these unprecedented times of change. And remember, if you have positive leadership questions, email me at [email protected]. Plus, if you want some simple practices that can increase positivity in your workplace, download my book for free:25 Tips for Leaders: How to Leverage the Science of Happiness to Increase Performance, Productivity, and Profitability

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