In times of change, employees move through stages that range from denial and frustration to creativity and acceptance. Leaders can take practical steps to help their employees on their change journey—and to help them thrive on the other side.
Psychologist Viktor Frankl once said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation—we are challenged to change ourselves.” With the intrusion of COVID-19, we all experienced situations we cannot control or change. Life as we know it has come to a screeching halt, and we are navigating our way through a new world and new ways of operating.
As companies scramble to adapt and operate amidst ever-changing scenarios, leaders also face situations they can’t control or influence. They must adapt so they can support and foster remote environments that enable employees to feel empowered and engaged.
Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and the manager-employee relationship is no exception. As employees transition through the current climate’s journey of uncertainty, they experience the normal stages and emotions of change. The leader’s role is to engage and support employees on their journey. For employees to work through change, they need to be able to rely on their leaders’ trust and stability to guide them to the other side.
To help you on your journey, in this blog post, we will share five actions every leader can take to lead their employees through times of uncertainty. But first, let’s take a moment to understand and appreciate the journey of change.
Mapping the Journey of Change
When a major change hits, it causes significant disruption to the status quo, and people begin to experience feelings of denial and shock. During these times, they feel out of control and look to their leaders for stability and direction.
Next, they begin to experience feelings of fear, anger and perhaps frustration as they mourn the ways of the past. This mourning needs to happen so they can embrace the future. Leaders can help employees move constructively through the necessary stages by establishing trust, showing compassion and exhibiting patience during the disruption. Only then can employees begin to accept and explore new ways of working and operating.
The more ways leaders find to empower and engage employees through collaboration and support, the more quickly employees find hope through creative and new ways of working within the new normal. As hope builds, enthusiasm mounts, and employees eventually come through the change with new perspectives and a renewed commitment to success. Leaders must be ready for this time because it is the optimal moment to cultivate and develop the talent that will help them achieve new heights of success.
Five Actions to Build Trust Today
Each employee will complete their journey in their own time, and no exact recipe exists for helping them move through it more quickly. But, we have seen many leaders take simple, practical actions that build trust and ultimately accelerate the pace from denial to commitment.
- Commit to providing employees with what they need and how they need it. Without question, employees need direction, especially during disruptive times. How leaders provide that direction is crucial. Employees do not appreciate micromanagement, especially when they are dealing with uncertainty in other aspects of their lives. Abandon the command and control approach in favor of a more collaborative touch that leaves little room for ambiguity about what each other needs.
- Take time to connect. This step may seem basic, but as people forego casual, in-person conversations in the workplace for planned video conferences, small talk takes a back seat. At the beginning of each meeting, ask questions about their families, their lives, and how they are adjusting. This time may be the most valuable 10 minutes you can spend with your employees to build trust and loyalty. These crucial conversations can indicate when people need space, time to adjust, or a little additional support.
- Share your vision of the future. In times of uncertainty, people need answers. While leaders may not have all the answers, they have an idea of things they want to maintain, preserve and continue. Share your thoughts and ideas centered on what you hope to accomplish in the “new normal.” The most effective leaders aren’t always certain how they will win the battle—but to win the hearts and minds of their troops, they provide a vision of what those battles will mean and why they are fighting them.
- Communicate strategically and with purpose. Many well-intended leaders clamor for news to communicate to employees. They want to engage and motivate employees, but often they find the exact opposite happening. You can over-communicate. When you continuously pepper employees with sporadic messages, texts, chats, and phone calls on a variety of topics or random thoughts, it dilutes your purpose and vision and erodes trust. Employees appreciate clear, concise, consistent and aligned messages.
- Measure outcomes, not activity. Moving from an environment with constant activity to one where you only see the outcomes of employee work is challenging. Trust is imperative. Too often, leaders need assurance the outcomes will be successful and must resort to measuring outcomes and not activity. While it is normal to want assurance of success, resist the urge to focus on outcomes and impacts rather than the activities themselves. This mindset not only empowers employees to tap into their creativity to find new ways of working, but it also secures their commitment to success in the new world.
The future isn’t clear, but leaders can help shape it by finding new ways to engage and empower employees virtually. How they interact and support employees through the journey of change directly impacts how quickly employees get to a place of accepting and leaning into whatever comes next.