Change often brings adversity and challenge—but as leaders, we need to understand what’s driving the challenge and get out in front of it. With ears to the ground, leaders must take swift action if they sense risk or resistance. Ideally, we want to anticipate and plan for all challenges ahead of time, through risk and resistance mitigation, but that’s not always possible. Below are four steps for bringing people and process together during times of change to ensure successful outcomes on the other side. Sometimes, this means saying what’s wrong out loud; always, it means establishing and maintaining trust.
1. Have Candid Conversations. Talking with associates before, during, and after a change process is the best way to understand their concerns and take the pulse of the organization. Speaking directly with managers and others affected by the change helps to surface issues quickly. Staff won’t always volunteer information, but they will open up about what they’re thinking if you persist and engage them in conversation. Be authentic, ask the right questions, listen carefully to the answers, and follow through on open topics.
2. Establish Trust and Transparency. Associates need to be able to trust you, and you need to earn that trust. Talking openly to associates about their work and discussing mutual challenges helps to establish that foundation. They should hear about any developments from you first, as their leader, so share information proactively whenever you can. Be candid in acknowledging the challenges you face together and where you need their insights. Through direct interaction with customers and clients, your front-line staff understand valuable customer perspective as well as what their peers are saying—and you want to know what they know.
3. Lead with Integrity, Perseverance, and Resolve. In any situation, the team takes cues from their leader; they watch for your reaction and response, and their behavior will follow yours. For these reasons, it’s important to be optimistic about the future, realistic about the present, and practical—and certain—in your approach to going forward. This style of leadership creates energy and optimism, and motivates the team to push ahead and persevere along with you.
4. Bounce Back. Getting on with the business at hand after dealing with challenges is a matter of resilience—and being resilient is a conscious decision. Adverse events and outcomes will occur, and when they do, we need to take responsibility, learn the most we can from them, cope, transcend any disappointment, and move forward to make great things happen. Bouncing back isn’t about dwelling and blaming (not even yourself); it’s about getting better at being a leader because you learned from the experience. Mistakes are sometimes the very best teacher we can have.
Lori Carr is a customer experience pioneer and expert. Working with Fortune 500 companies for the past 25 years, she helps popular brands and emerging brands to dramatically increase retention, loyalty, and profitable revenues.