As many organizations are bringing employees back to the office, many are experiencing change to varying degrees within our workplaces. This return may come as a shock to employees as it will require an adjustment to how they’ve been working over the last two years. It may cause some people to hold feelings of loss or anxiousness.
People resist change, especially if they don’t understand the thinking behind the change and it seems their voices aren’t being heard. The challenge is that managers are at the forefront of overseeing the micro-changes happening every day, and a manager may not be involved in all higher-level conversations. By guiding their teams and engaging in conversations when they come about, they have a better chance of guiding their employees through this change. You need to realize that employees are trying to make sense of the changes that are already happening all around them. This time during the pandemic has been full of uncertainty for everyone. As a leader, you need to understand employees are trying to transition into this new reality within the organization after being away for two years. Employees interact within their informal networks within the organization and ask others what they think and how they feel about the changes. These conversations are informal and complex; but if managers lead change conversations with their teams, they will build more influence and positivity to help employees make sense of what is happening versus avoiding these types of conversations and leaving it to chance.
According to research by a leading change management organization, PROSCI, engagement and support of middle managers are one of the keys to success in organizational change efforts. However, the research also found that most middle managers have not received basic training on these skills to lead change and don’t fully understand what the expectations of them during this time are. Here are three questions to ask this group to gain more insight:
1. Have we told managers and supervisors what we expect from them in times of change?
2. Do they fully understand the specific actions and behaviors we need from them to support a change effort?
3. Have we provided them with the skills and tools to be successful at leading their direct reports through change?
It is critical to provide training on the foundational elements of how people experience change and the associated behaviors so these leaders can coach their teams through it. With coaching skills, leaders will be able to better able to navigate the ups and downs of the change efforts. In many cases, they will be dealing with employees’ reactions to the change, which may not seem logical. Organizations need to not just involve these leaders in the changes that are happening to them and their teams, but also to give them the necessary skills and knowledge to be savvy change leaders.
Helping build skills in change leadership is one of the biggest requests from my clients. How is your organization preparing leaders for navigating this complex change with returning to work strategies? If this is an area of improvement for your organization, I’d love to connect on strategies I have found that work to build capabilities in change leadership and help teams thrive through change.