4 Best Practices for Leading Employees through Change

How do I lead my team through frustrating changes in our department?  A leader in the technology industry asked me this question recently.  I have seen leaders get people through change really well.  I have also seen leaders whose teams became disengaged and burned out during similar short-term challenges.  One of the biggest success factors is communication.

As George Bernard Shaw wisely put it, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  When changes are taking place, leaders often become busy and distracted.  It’s challenging to keep employees in the loop and focused on the right things.  Here are four best practices to help you give your people what they need so your team can deliver results.

1.      Communicate your vision clearly.  Describe what the successful outcomes will look like following the change.  Paint the picture of what the future looks like.  Mental images can be powerful motivators for discretionary effort.  People need to know what they are working toward!  To learn more about wording an effective vision, check out this article from Wharton.


2.      Actively lead rather than passively receive.  Take an active stance within the change.  Point out why you think a specific change is a good idea.  Don’t just say that your boss or the CEO thinks it’s a good idea.  Find (and communicate) your own perspective of the change’s value.  Employees will respect you more if you lead the change versus simply act as a messenger.  Also, pay attention to the way you explain upcoming events, such as the words you use (e.g., “we’re choosing to...” vs. “we have to...”).


3.      Stay visible and in touch.  The leaders who I have seen successfully navigate crises are the ones that stay present and visible.  They don’t disappear.  They resist the urge to shut their office door.  Instead, effective leaders connect with their people every day and communicate.  The medium of the communication doesn’t seem to matter.  Leaders use email blasts, group voicemails, group chats, a 10-minute stand-up meeting each morning, etc.  What matters is that they actively keep the line of communication open with employees and update their teams regularly and continuously.  These leaders communicate what they know and what they do not know about the changes.  When leaders do not directly say what is going on, people tend to assume the worst but you can get ahead of this without sharing confidential or privy information.


4.      Measure progress and highlight improvements.  Making objective feedback easy to obtain helps people track progress.  For example, billable hours, number of customer complaints, talent retention rates, and time spent on manual processes can be measured and tracked.  When people feel like they are treading water, it demotivates them.  When people feel like they are moving forward and things are getting better, they are more likely to keep pushing forward.  Celebrate milestones as well as personal and team bests as you all work toward the vision.


Bottom line, all companies will experience change.Leaders who succeed during these periods are the ones who offer consistent communication and reasonable transparency to employees.As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “We can’t stop the waves, but we can learn how to surf.”