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Leading through uncertain times

Kate Zabriskie

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Inspire with confidence as you navigate business changes.

If there is one thing about business that doesn’t change, it’s that business will always change! Be it through the advent of new technology, loss of a key employee, new laws that govern the way your industry does business, or the results of a pandemic and recession. No matter what the change may be, the last thing your team wants to hear from you is: “OK, now what do we do?”

An effective leader needs to lead their team through change, and do so with confidence to inspire others to be confident as well.

Employees may feel unsure and fearful about a new direction a business may be taking or change they are forced to deal with. As their leader, their cues as to how to act and feel will come directly from you. It’s important that you have a solid action plan in place.

The following are nine tips to help you when leading your team through uncertain times:

1. Know that the path to the eventual goal is not always a linear one. As a team is dealing with change in the workplace, it is not as simple as announcing it, adapting to it and moving toward goals. Employees and even leaders may have changing feelings about the process, and that’s normal. Recognizing and addressing these concerns as they arise is a healthy way to deal with them and is expected in a situation that may feel full of turmoil or even traumatic at times.

2. Identify key leaders and stakeholders early in the process. As the process of change begins, it is important to identify those on your team who represent true leadership qualities. They can be seen as stakeholders in the process and support you in your efforts to lead the team through the change and onto greater success. These individuals will be crucial in helping to instill confidence and keep the team moving together toward the stated goals.

3. Construct a solid plan. Even small changes need a plan. That plan should address changes in processes, products and expectations of the people involved. If a change is drastic, you might have to construct an entirely new business plan. Creating a plan and sharing it with your team will go a long way toward giving them a feeling of stability as they move together in this new business environment.

4. Identify goals clearly. Failing to communicate clearly defined goals is one of the worst errors people can make when leading change. If employees don’t have a firm sense of what they are moving toward, they may end up just … moving. Clearly define objectives and how you will support your team in meeting them. Your key stakeholders will play a vital role as they lead by example in making decisions and actions that support accomplishing these goals.

5. Continually define and redefine the change as necessary. During a time of uncertainty, rumors abound. When your team doesn’t know some aspect concerning the change at hand, they will begin to speculate. This can lead to confusion, worry and looking elsewhere for employment. The best plan of action is to be upfront and communicate with your team any information you have as you get it. Simply knowing what is going on will instill confidence and quell fears, even if the information is not all that good to begin with.

6. Don’t discount the past. Oftentimes, new changes mean discarding the old ways of doing things, and projects once seen as vital are “kicked to the curb” so to speak. This can leave those team members who worked on such projects feeling slighted and that their contributions were worthless. An effective team leader will highlight such projects and give credence to past accomplishments as jobs well done, while at the same time leading the team into the new direction.

7. Don’t hide the challenges. There will be times when even an effectively created plan will hit a stumbling block, or even come to a screeching halt. Don’t hide challenges when they occur; instead, share them with your team. They may have valuable input and will feel more invested in helping to overcome any obstacles as you bring them into the discussion.

8. Carefully listen to all concerns. One issue that many leaders fail at is truly listening to their team. They may take a “this is the way it is now, so deal with it” approach, and this can lower morale and make team members feel defeated in an already scary situation. Instead, make yourself available to your team and listen to them. Sometimes, simply venting about the changing environment will do wonders to help someone deal with what is going on. And other times, their insight could be invaluable in helping you do your job as well.

9. Clearly state new or adjusted performance objectives. Of all the things that will affect the changing workplace environment, uncertainty among team members can be the greatest obstacle to overcome. One way to combat that early on is to clearly state any changes in performance objectives and reviews. Employees will want to know exactly how and when they will be reviewed and what criteria will be a factor as well. This will allow them to focus on their own objectives and give them a sense of confidence as they move through the changing environment.

Change can be scary, full of surprises and extremely challenging at times. But if you have a plan of action, communicate effectively with your team, and move toward new objectives with confidence and a team that is committed as well, you can survive and even thrive in the new adjusted business environment.

Kate Zabriskie is president of Business Training Works Inc. She and her team help businesses establish client service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit businesstrainingworks.com.

 

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