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Tips for Successfully Leading Your Team Through Change

Justin E. Crawford

Justin E. Crawford

Justin E. Crawford is the founder of Agents of Efficiency, Inc., author of "Live Free or DIY: The Time-starved Small-Business Owner’s Survival Guide" and the chief architect of the Efficiency Roadmap process, which helps small businesses across the country thrive. As an attorney, entrepreneur and operations consultant, he has more than 15 years of experience launching and growing companies.
Justin E. Crawford

We all have our reservations and hang-ups about change. Change creates uncertainty, and in the human mind this drudges up fears of the unknown. Some of us are downright afraid of change and will avoid it at all costs. But of course, as you start and run a business, you will find that you regularly need to make shifts and refine the way you operate. This is simply a fact of business and a fact of life.

Leaders that won’t make changes will watch certain aspects of their business become obsolete or stop working entirely.

From a negative perspective, employees may see change as more work, more headaches and new obstacles to overcome, all of which didn’t exist before. So if you’re a leader trying to implement change, consider whether the following factors are holding you and your team members back.

Resistance to change

When you first introduce a change in your work environment, it’s incredibly common to see coworkers start to resist. A frantic manager might try harder to enforce the new direction, or even use scare tactics to motivate employees to go along with new ideas.

Ultimately, this is more likely to cause instability in the workplace, along with feelings of resentment and anger in team members. As a leader, the smartest thing you can do is find out why the resistance is occurring. It comes down to two simple possibilities: either employees don’t understand the change, or they don’t like it.



Not understanding change

It’s unfortunately common for leaders and managers to introduce change without much of a discussion. When there is minimal info passed down to a team of workers, the workplace becomes a breeding ground for assumptions. What are these changes for? What will they mean for me? Does this mean we weren’t doing a good job before?

Rather than letting this uncertainty grow, it’s incredibly important for leaders to be upfront in communicating any changes that are being made. This is a preventative step that will eliminate assumptions, gossip and resistance due to a lack of understanding.

The most critical thing to communicate is the why (why these new developments are occurring) and the benefit (what positive effects will come from making these changes? How will it benefit individual employees?). Know the answers to these questions before communicating with team members. Be sure to discuss things in a way your team is most comfortable, whether you hold a meeting, use an employee communication tool or any other method that has worked in the past. The more your team understands the overarching benefits of a change, the better they can digest and get on board with it.

Disagreement with change

If you’ve clearly articulated information to employees and there is still some form of resistance present, you may be facing a bigger issue: genuine opposition. This occurs when people understand what you are proposing, they hear your spiel, but they simply don’t agree.

Oftentimes, this will occur with certain team members and not others. For example, one person may feel that their workload will increase or that a new burden is being placed on them. In this case, you will need to talk one-on-one with these individuals and not ignore what is happening. Ask them what they will need to get on board with the change or how you can help them do their jobs better. You can’t completely compromise and go back on a change if it works well for the business as a whole. But you can tweak your new system to stay aligned with your startup’s vision and help these individuals feel heard.


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Not fully implementing change

Once you’ve tackled misunderstandings and worked out issues that your team dislikes, what else could go wrong? The final problem may lie in the details. For example, having a broad vision for change is easy, such as: We will introduce a new customer ticketing system and improve customer satisfaction. From a management perspective, this is a no-brainer. Problem solved! But the reality of the change may look more like this: staff confusion with the new technology, customers receiving answers slower, frustration on both sides, cutting corners, coworkers bickering and blaming, etc.

In this case, the question then becomes, “Is there a better way to implement this change and still reach the long-term goal?” Again, communication is everything. Talk with your team and find out what’s going wrong. A good employee who feels safe and trusted will be able to open up and let you know what’s not working. The solution may be more training, better collaboration between staff, or something else. If your team members seem hesitant to discuss what’s wrong, they may simply not want to rock the boat and appear oppositional to change. Encourage them to open up, as the success of your business depends on it. Once the problems are revealed, you can tweak small details to optimize and streamline the processes involved.

To make a long story short, it’s crucial for leaders to keep the lines of communication wide open, especially during a major organizational shift. Prior to introducing changes, or at least during the process, assess how much support is really available. How communicative and available are you, really? This will make all the difference in orchestrating hugely effective change with the help and willingness of your team.

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