There is no question about it: when we have to shift the way we do things, emotions surface.
They might be positive or they might be negative, but they will be there. That’s complicated enough, but we also have to remember that often we will experience more than one emotion at a time.
We might feel excited about the new opportunities ahead of us but at the same time we might be frozen by the possibility of failure. In our head, the future looks bright but in the present,the reality is that we are scared to take that leap forward. The fear of failure freezes our desire to change: after all, if we don’t try, we will never fail.
If you are in charge of a business change initiative, if you are trying to convince someone to try something new or even if you just know that things just can’t stay the same, you cannot influence others without considering the mega-mix of emotions that are likely to arise. All sorts of thoughts, all sorts of questions, all sorts of pictures, all underlined by a range of feelings.
The one thing you must not stop doing is communicating. In an attempt to make sense of what is going around them, people will fill any perceived gaps of information with their own conclusions. The effects on those who are having a hard time is obvious: their imagination can lead to perceive things as if they are much worse than they really are. But you also need to consider that those who are excited by the change, who are directing their energy to giving it a good try, might also be filling the gaps in themselves – something that later on can lead to disappointment. And remember, you won’t only need to implement change, you will also need to continue making sure things work out in the long-term.
So let your people know how often you will communicate with them and through what channel.
Is a half-hour meeting possible once a week?
If an update via e-mail is more practical, how will you make sure that you are answering people’s questions and not just giving them the information that you think they need? How about opening your Inbox to questions a day before your update is due?
Talk to people, listen in the corridors, get a feel for what is happening in the organisation. Acknowledge that it takes time to adapt, that it’s not easy.
You are not just changing systems or outputs: you are asking people to change. And that is complicated.
For more thoughts on Helping Employees Cope With Change, read the article by the same name on the HBR Blog.