Expert Panel

Focus on these things to succeed in Workplace Communication Skills

Follow These Steps to Become a Change Leader


By Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions

As humans, we prefer a state called homeostasis. It’s the state in which a person’s relationship to the environment is stable. It’s in our very nature to strive for stability and resist change. Physically, we are wired for regulation that keeps our systems operating in a way that is stable and unchanging. Emotionally, we may cling to what or who is familiar.


You may have heard or read before that the top stressors for humans are related to making changes. Even positive changes like getting married, buying a home or starting a new job are highly stressful. Why? Because even when we are excited by the future possibilities, we are also apprehensive about the loss and transition we will experience as we make these changes.


We know, of course, that we are supposed to embrace change. In the workplace, being resistant to change is viewed negatively. Management teams don’t want to hear things like this:


  • That seems too risky.
  • I’ll wait to see how it works out.
  • It worked before, so I know it will work again.
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • This, too, shall pass.
  • Everything is fine.
  • It’s a slippery slope.


That’s why workplace change is often more difficult than it needs to be. Changes are announced or mandated, and expressions of resistance or even mild apprehensiveness are unwelcome. The expectation is that everyone will make the change immediately and happily. 


There are some techniques you can use to make change easier, whether you’re the one introducing change or the one being asked to accept change.


First, you might as well find ways to become a little more nimble. The pace of change in our society is unprecedented and no business will survive without stepping up its pace of change, too. We can’t avoid change and often can’t anticipate and control it either. So we might as well do our best to deal with it.


To make a change, remember that it is impossible to do the same old thing at the same time you are doing something different. You have to deliberately end the old way and then start the new way. As obvious as that may seem, it’s a frequent barrier to real and sustained change – people don’t want to let go. You’ve probably worked with some folks like this. I know one newspaper reporter who still writes his stories on a typewriter before copying his work into his desktop computer. Yes, he’s made a change – but the change he made added work instead of making his work easier to do. To experience the potential benefits of change, we have to give change a fair chance.


To make it easier for yourself to accept change, do your best to understand why the change is needed and what the long-term benefits will be. Focus then on the long-term. Sure, it may be more difficult for now to use a new system. Your learning curve and the bugs in the system are slowing you down. Don’t give up too soon. Once you have learned the system and the processes have been ironed out, you may find that it does, indeed, benefit you in some way.


If you are tasked with ushering in something new, be sure to follow these simple guidelines for introducing change:


  • Have a good reason for changing. Tell people what that reason is. Never make change just for the sake of change. It’s too traumatic.
  • Involve people in the change. Make it transparent and inclusive.
  • Employ the informal influencers and leaders to help champion the change you’re making.
  • Provide training to support and reinforce change.
  • Enlist outside help if there are specialized competencies needed to get things started.
  • Establish symbols of change, reminders and job aids to keep this change at the forefront.
  • Acknowledge & reward change – not just after it’s been made but as people are making an effort to get where you’d like them to be.


When you announce a change, be thoughtful about how people are going to feel and react. Remember that even positive change involves loss and transition. You can use this 4-step method as an outline to script your change message. 


1)     Situation: What happened to cause the need for this change?


2)     Feeling: What emotional context is there?


3)     Effects: Be honest about how this will impact those involved.


4)     Needs/Wants: Describe the outcome you would like to see.


Finally, as people are making this change be sure to stay closely connected to them and to the change itself. If your attention and focus move on to something else too quickly, don’t be surprised when this change fails to take hold. Be sure you:


  • Allow time for adjustment.
  • Allow for errors, adjustments and learning.
  • Stay positive & focused on the benefits and outcomes.
  • Ask for & act on feedback from others.
  • Set a consistent example.


If you can keep these simple principles in mind, you will be effective as a change leader. Others will appreciate your support and will feel more comfortable making changes you’ve asked.  


Please join Deb's conversation in 'This Week's Discussion', located in our Workplace Communication Skills Community.


Written by Deb Calvert,

Workplace Communication Skills Expert for ManagingAmericans.com & President, People First Productivity Solutions.


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