Processing change can be difficult in the best of times, but the last few years have presented enormous challenges and substantial change in many aspects of our personal and professional lives.
With so much change happening outside of people’s control, what can leaders do to help their teams, organizations, and communities to feel supported and prepared to navigate difficult change?
Whether in families, in schools, or in the workplace, people of all ages need three things to thrive in times of change: clarity, stability, and belonging.
Here are some simple ways leaders can help with processing change:
- ProvideCLARITY: “What is different now, and what is staying the same?”
Change is not an event. It is the new, evolving reality that remains after the event(s). Too often, changes are announced by describing an event that triggered the change, without drawing clear distinctions between what will be different, and what remains unchanged.
Leaders can help to calm much of the anxiety associated with processing change simply by helping people clarify what will be different and what familiar things can still be relied on.
Leaders can bring clarity into a change by:
- Naming the changes that are already clear: What will be different? What remains the same?
- Inviting people to add to the list of “what’s different” and how these new realities are affecting (or may affect) them.
- Admitting that some clarification will need to come in time. As a recent article in Harvard Business Review challenged, “It’s important to focus on what you know and be candid about what you don’t. If you do not have an answer, say so.… it’s important to let employees know you are committed to communicating openly and transparently and will follow up as soon as you know more.”
- Promote STABILITY: “What can we still count on? What’s still stable, predictable, and solid?”
Predictability in our lives can reduce stress, especially in areas that most impact our sense of safety and security for ourselves and our families. Discussing areas of coming change, without recognizing what remains predictable, can place disproportionate focus and weight on the things that will change—increasing feelings of uncertainty and stress. Leaders can optimize people’s sense of stability by:
- Sharing a list of what people can still rely on. Focusing initially on what will remain unchanged is a good way to enter into change discussions with a balanced mindset—about how to effectively plan for and move through periods of transition.
- Inviting people to add to the list of what is not changing, and why this is important to them.
- Encouraging people to ask clarifying questions if they are unsure what will happen to something that matters to them (Will it be lost? Will it change? Can I keep it?). So much anxiety can be avoided when people know on the front end what remains familiar along the way.
- Foster BELONGING: “You still matter. How can I help you know you matter as we process this?”
Big change can be disorienting. Often the things in people’s lives that anchor them to their sense of worth, contribution, and purpose get lost.
Belonging is especially important during times of disruption. Without a strong sense of belonging, people might speculate that they will lose their place. Helping individuals and teams to feel connected, supported, and valued when they feel most vulnerable is key to successfully leading others through periods of significant change. Leaders can cultivate a sense of belonging by:
- Affirming and recognizing the challenges that people are facing.
- I KNOW THIS IS HARD: “I see the strain that X is placing on Y….”
- Creating conversations to build ownership of solutions:
- WHAT DO YOU NEED? “What needs or concerns is this change causing for you?”
- WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS? “What can you do about these concerns? What resources are available? What can we tackle together?”
It’s important for leaders to be aware of the needs of the people around them, but even more crucially, leaders need to take an active role in making sure those needs are met during times of change. With intentional dedication to creating clarity, stability, and belonging, even the toughest changes can become less daunting – for everyone.
The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Among its five divisions, TLC offers School-based Staffing Solutions, Mobile Coaching and Counseling, and Heather’s Hope: A Center for Victims of Crime. These major programs are united under TLC’s mission to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting. For more information, go to: TheLincolnCenter.com/
About the Author
MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging