Change Is Afoot – 5 Critical Steps in Leading Through Change

Change Is Afoot – 5 Critical Steps in Leading Through Change

When Change is Afoot:

Keep Your Team Engaged and Your Workplace Culture Healthy:

Five Critical Steps for Leading Through Change

Jane called me with a problem. She was up against it in leading through change. After 18 minutes Jane was starting to repeat herself. As she was gave me the rundown on her team, her anxiety was palpable.  She had taken the high achieving leader scorecard. (Try it out here) and she had done pretty well. Still, I stopped her and said,

“I totally hear you: Your company has undergone major changes!  You’ve got a ton more responsibility. This investor that acquired your business is gargantuan (think 10s of bn USD, global).  Your team used to be pretty comfortable with the way things were and now the gaping maw of uncertainty stretches before you all. Does that about capture it?”

The look in her eyes hinted of emotion that many years of senior roles had conditioned her to suppress.

“It’s ok. Anyone in your seat would feel that way. (pause)  Now, what’s the loudest problem on your plate right now – today?”

She replied:

“I’m not sure what to do for my people. The processes and delivery, the customer deliverables we have all that in hand – except we’ve had a lot of voluntary exits and so now we are a little short-staffed, but our HR department is handling that. What I’m not sure about is how to calm everyone’s uncertainty and keep the key people who are still here.”

Strong Leadership Doesn’t Mean Unaffected

Can you relate? As you’re reading this – does this resonate for you? She’s thinking what can I do? I’m uncertain too! Yet, my job is to help my people stay focused on their projects and the work at hand.

When a company is changing, that is when the until-then-quiet discontents surface. That is often when people who weren’t really satisfied jump ship. Sometimes, you also must execute layoffs on top of it all. You probably once had a direct line to the top, and now you don’t. You don’t have as much influence as you used to. Everyone is way more tense, and what’s worse is, it’s under the surface, so it’s hard to deal with.

There isn’t anyone to talk to (except your beleaguered spouse perhaps) and You’re not sure what you can do to make things better.

I come bearing good news. The senior VP of Engineering above took these steps and it made a huge difference.

These steps are ones you can take, no matter where you are in the process, to keep your team members engaged with the company through changing times:

There is no escaping change

Step One: Lead through change with communication

I know, I know – you already have acknowledged the changes, and communicated about them endlessly. That’s exactly what Jane said too. However, leading through change requires us to communicate and repeat our messages early and often. And sometimes we forget that acknowledging our team’s experience of the change is the most important part. It’s important to connect with and name the discomfort, the uncertainty, the frustration, the opportunities, and the hope. In other words, acknowledge the feelings too.

We frequently listen at length to the experiences of senior staff at both large and small organizations with scientists, engineers, and technical experts as their primary talent. It seems especially challenging for technical leaders to make space for feelings in the most appropriate and comfortable way. Their struggle with it is palpable! Most of these folks are far more comfortable talking about the technical and logistics aspects of their projects than they are talking about their feelings. And in some organizations where feelings are discussed openly, it ends up feeling messy.

Of course, that’s how it is! They feel on solid ground in the realm of the concrete. Change doesn’t feel solid or even tangible sometimes. So, sticking with things that are solid and tangible feels safer. The problem is, that doing so turns a blind eye to a large part of what is destabilizing your team.

Get Support

This is when having some outside help to help open these conversations in a professional and well-managed way can help. This could be:

  • A Lunch and Learn style program, facilitated by someone with skills in this area.
    • What we’ve seen when we do this for clients is that programs like this help employees express their thinking and feeling (with each other) and be heard and understood, AND they get to evolve their thinking to be more relaxed and accepting of the current realities and the changes that are afoot. Their attention eventually comes around to what’s going well and why they are choosing to be there, what they are committed to, and what they actually do still have control over.
  • Another possibility is to engage an executive coach to support the leaders individually, the leadership team collectively, or both. Leading through change is not something to do all alone.
    • We have seen leaders make subtle shifts in their communications approaches that radically improve the energy, culture, and dynamics of the people they are leading. Leaders can use their coach to help them become the key that unlocks their team’s potential and cohesion again.

Showing Your Commitment

Both of these initiatives are ways of acknowledging the changes that have been happening, and really clarify and sharpen your ability to connect with your people while strengthening the sense of team and collaboration as you find your way together. Taking action like this shows that you are aware of the undercurrents in the organization and are actively taking responsibility for it. It also tells your team that they are being listened to and understood.

This is a powerful trust-building action. It is key to leading through change well.

When people feel heard and understood, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work–and that’s good news when you’re trying to keep a culture working well during a period of transition.

Step Two: Communicate what is changing and why

When your company is changing, it’s important that you communicate what is changing and why. You can do this in a three important ways:

  1. Make sure your team knows about the change as soon as possible. Keeping them out of the loop will likely increase their frustrations and anxiety. People tend to feel out of control when they don’t know what’s happening in an environment that matters to them – like work. While none of us really controls our environment, we feel more at peace and calm when we understand it. It causes more stress than necessary to be kept in the dark–especially if they’re worried about their jobs or their ability to provide for their families. It is however difficult for leaders to know exactly what they can and cannot reveal when they are privy to confidential high-level meetings. This is when that outside support for leaders has been especially valuable to help sift through exactly what details you can share and how to communicate them.
  2. Explain the specific changes and why they are happening. Examples are:
    • “We’re moving into new offices because our current ones are too small”
      • “We will have modernized laboratory space”
    • “We are adopting a new internal communications system so that we can more seamlessly integrate with the different departments”
      • “This will assure you get answers and feedback you need from other segments of the business more quickly”
  3. Keep people informed as changes occur during implementation (“we’ve found another building that will allow us to grow quickly while staying within budget”). Give employees opportunities at various points during implementation where they can ask questions or voice concerns about where things are headed; this helps keep everyone on track with expectations surrounding timing, budgeting etcetera.

Once Jane had a chance to really sort through the mass of interconnected issues she was holding in her head, (she did engage a great coach – 😉) it became so much more clear how, when, and what specifically to communicate that was on point, tone sensitive, and in short-frequent bursts that relaxed her team.

Step Three: Get involved in communication with your team

Even when you only have a few minutes each week – early, frequent communication is your best lever.

Speaking of short and frequent communications!

  • Get involved in communication with your team, even if it’s just for a few minutes each week.

Consider having a short weekly meeting. This meeting is for the purpose of hearing what your team is thinking and feeling. It’s a time to answer questions and listen to concerns. It’s important that you remain open to hearing what they have to say and that you remain honest about how things are going—even while not oversharing details inappropriately. Shutting down communication or having changes simply reported will have your people feeling anxious or fearful and will only breed more anxiety. Instead, prioritize empathy for how your employees are experiencing the changes. This will mean being transparent about the changes happening within the company so employees know exactly where they stand.

Communicate What Matters Most

Yes, of course, you can’t tell them everything you know all the time. However, you can tune in and pay attention to how people are responding to the changing circumstances.

IE: How are they communicating with each other? Are there are any signs of conflict in the workplace–such as someone being rude or aggressive toward another employee? Conflict could indicate that individual and collective anxiety is high in your workplace culture. If it’s present, you can address those issues immediately so they don’t escalate further out of control.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This meeting should not be the same meeting as the weekly leadership team meeting. I suggest a silent meeting segment of the leadership meeting. If you’re curious about that – Contact me here and I’ll send you a pdf outline what that is and why it’s so great at reducing time wasted in meetings, and makes your meetings more engaging.

Step Four: Make sure you’re listening to them as well as talking to them.

  • Listen to what your team is saying.
  • Ask questions, and be open to new ideas.
  • Be willing to change your mind if it helps the team move forward.
  • Make sure that you’re being heard in this process, as well as making sure they’re being heard as well! Have you used active listening approaches?
  • Figure out together what leading through change effectively means to you.

Step Five: Support your team

Leading through change also means supporting your team. Be there to support them as they explore new opportunities within the company or even as they look at openings outside of your company. “What!?” you say. “You want me to help them leave?” Yes! If they want to leave and you help them, you are setting a tone of really being there for your team members. This sends a powerful message to all who stay. And, fewer of them will leave if you support the ones who are really unhappy in moving on.

This is a hard thing to embrace at first, but it’s critical because it helps you retain your best people, and it allows them to grow and learn from their experiences. As a leader, you want people who are constantly trying new things and learning new skills. If someone is not getting this opportunity at their current job, then they may need to look elsewhere for growth potential–and possibly take some of your key employees with them!



Your willingness to discuss your employees search for work outside of your company is key to leading through change well. Open communication demonstrates your concern with their wellbeing. Your focus on service shows that you are not afraid of change; and that you can be grounded and supportive even through transitions. And then it’s more likely that your key people, if the fit is good, will stick around.

Be ready to act as a mentor if someone comes to talk about what’s next for them in terms of career development or job search strategies (and offer up advice based on what has worked well for others). You can also provide emotional support (within reason) during these times. Being able to lean on someone during uncertain times is always helpful when making big decisions such as changing jobs or starting something new outside of work hours.

Leading through change
Leading Through Change

Connected Employees = Happier Employees = More Successful Transitions

Taking these five steps will help keep your employees more resilient. They also will be more at ease during transition periods. Finally, these steps help ensure your best people stick around long enough for the transition to be successful.

Remember how important trust is to employee engagement. Any change, whether big or small, is a ‘trust crossroad’.  These moments can either foster the growth of trust in the team or break it. Nurturing trust is key to leading through change. It’s important to do whatever possible to gather information. Trust facilitates a pressure release of built-up tensions and support your leaders with outside help if that will serve them. This hones their ability to navigate the new changes.

2020 threw us all for a loop – wouldn’t you agree? COVID surprised most of us. Likewise, no leader is prepared for the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) that occurs both within our companies and the in the world.

What makes a great leader is the willingness to stay present, get help, and focus on what’s most important.

We hope that these tips will help you and your team stay engaged during your changes ongoing and to come! Remember it’s not just about keeping people happy; it’s also about making sure they understand what’s happening so they can do their job better!

Please share here what your recent experiences with change and transition have been. Connect with Lisa here directly. I look forward to hearing from you.


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“ Lisa Hale’s approach to coaching is authentic, grounded & wonderfully heart-centered, without any New Age fluff. At the same time it is clear, focused, and strategic.

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