Change Is Here. Get Ready for a Bumpy Ride!
As we began our descent into Jackson Hole, strong winds rocked the plane. Clutching my arm in a death grip my seatmate whispered in a panic-stricken voice, “We’re all going to die!” Although I tried to reassure her she remained agitated. In an attempt to distract her I tried to engage her in conversation.
“Is this your first flight?” I gently asked.
“Not exactly,” she replied, “I’m a flight attendant.”
What??? If a flight attendant was in a panic, I obviously wasn’t worried nearly enough for my own good! Seeing the look of alarm on my face, she began to calm down a bit. “I do tend to overreact, so maybe we should check to see how my husband is handling this. He’s seated right across the aisle.”
“Why would that matter?” I asked. She replied, “Because he’s a pilot.”
Working up my courage, I stole a glance across the aisle. What if he were reacting in the same way? I’ve never been so relieved to see a man calmly reading the newspaper! Then the captain reassured, “Nothing to worry about, folks. Due to strong wind currents and the way Jackson Hole is nestled in between these mountains, this will be a bumpy landing. But we’ll be fine. Just sit tight and we’ll have you safely on the ground in a couple of minutes.”
That pilot and flight attendant reacted very differently to rapid change. One was calm and in control, and the other was anxious and insecure. In today’s competitive global environment we’re all facing rapid change. Because change can bring uncertainty and fear into every department within an organization, your role as a leader is critical. Your employees are looking to you to remain calm, set the tone, and help them survive the process.
To be effective, you must first decide how you personally feel about the impending changes. Were you comfortable with the changes when they were first announced to management? You’ve probably had some time to deal with your thoughts and feelings. So don’t expect your staff to instantly acquiesce when you break the news to them. Although time is a luxury when it comes to accepting change, it’s important to provide enough time for them to ask questions, adapt and adjust.
As a leader of change, are you sending mixed messages? Are your words and actions congruent? Your staff is smart enough to know if you’re simply chanting the mantra sent from above, or if you really understand the impact these changes will have on your department. Are you communicating what needs to happen, along with the plans in place to make change work?
When you’re leading change, panic and fear aren’t wise choices. Encourage comments and feedback. Open, honest and inclusive communication can go a long way towards getting the commitment you need.
In next week’s blog we’ll explore your role as an employee in making change work. In case you haven’t figured it out already, your leaders expect you to help facilitate change – without resorting to anger, complaints, apathy or fear. Remember, the ride may be bumpy, but you will survive!