Leading Through Change: Importance, Tips and What To Avoid

Updated December 27, 2022

A small team gathers to discuss strategy.

Change is a necessary part of business. Sometimes you might change plan this change and other times it might happen unexpectedly. If you're preparing for or experiencing a period of transition at your place of work, learning about how to manage that transformation and help lead others through it might allow you to more successfully achieve your business goals.

In this article, we discuss why leading through change is important, explain how to do so effectively, provide tips for leaders and review advice about common leadership challenges.

Why is leading through change important?

While periods of change can be stressful for an organization, strong, empathetic leadership can help businesses move through these transitions successfully. Specifically, leading a team through change can help:

  • Ease worries

  • Encourage communication

  • Address uncertainty

Leaders can also help their team maintain focus and positivity despite the distractions that may accompany changes in the workplace. Strong leadership can influence whether teams maintain productivity levels and how change affects morale. This is because leaders have a chance to spread positivity during a challenging time. By doing so, they may encourage other team members to display a hopeful view of change.

Related: 8 Proven Change Management Models for the Workplace

How to lead a team through change

Here are several ways to lead through change:

1. Assemble a strong leadership team ahead of time

Before a major company change, it can be helpful to evaluate the leadership team and identify necessary changes. Consider assembling a change management team of trustworthy individuals who are familiar with adapting to change in their careers. These individuals may also provide new ideas that help encourage effective professional progress.

Related: Change Leadership: How To Be a Successful Change Leader

2. Bring in outside help

For major company-wide changes, consider bringing in a consultant who specializes in transition management to help make the process smoother and more efficient. These major changes may include:

  • Mergers

  • Acquisitions

  • Leadership changes

A consultant can identify potential challenges and help address them with proven strategies.

3. Recruit from within

During times of change, you may identify new opportunities within the company. Effective leaders may take this opportunity to reward hard-working individuals with promotions, thus filling those positions from within the company. Internal promotions show faith in the internal team and emphasize opportunities for growth to other team members. This can help restore trust and help team members feel secure in their jobs.

Related: Disruptive Change: Definition, Examples and How To Manage

4. Make a plan

It may also be useful to collaborate with a leadership team to develop a thorough strategic plan. Consider including the following elements:

  • Clear short-term and long-term goals

  • Organizational charts

  • Timelines or expected dates of major changes

  • Tangible, strategic steps the company is taking

Ensure all leaders are comfortable with the strategic plan and consider meeting with the change management team regularly, possibly once a month, to revisit the plan and make any necessary adjustments or updates.

5. Designate a spokesperson

Designating a spokesperson for a major change can help team members feel like the company is listening to their ideas. This point person attends status update meetings and remains knowledgeable on all components of company changes. They serve as the primary contact for all questions about changes, policies and procedures.

Related: How To Support Your Team

6. Hold a meeting

For major changes, especially those affecting the entire company, consider holding a company-wide meeting to introduce the changes. This can allow everyone to receive news at the same time, which helps ensure everyone receives the same information. The meeting can include:

  • Specific areas or policies that are changing

  • Areas that are staying the same

  • Decisions that are final

  • Decisions that are still in the consideration process

  • How the changes may affect each team member

Related: 6 Reasons for Conducting Meetings and Why They're Important

7. Educate and explain

Team members can better process change when they understand why it's happening. Leaders may explain the reasoning for changes taking place and discuss team member roles in the transition. Help individuals understand the leadership thought process and end goals and consider presenting the transition as a welcome opportunity for growth.

8. Create a transition team

Consider creating a transition team to monitor team member's reactions, feelings and concerns about the changes taking place. This team can meet regularly and report to the change management team. They may also serve as representatives of all individuals at the company, allowing staff to feel like their input matters.

Related: How To Manage Resistance to Change In 6 Steps (With Tips)

9. Prioritize

Effective leaders may decide what's most important for team members to focus on, understanding some reductions in productivity may occur. They may then help teams ensure they complete these tasks first. For instance, a leader may encourage a sales team to prioritize current accounts over potential new business.

10. Provide resources

Offer resources to help team members manage their emotions. This includes feelings of anxiety or excitement as the change approaches. These resources may include:

  • Referrals for counselors

  • Extra paid time off

  • Morale-building activities

Related: What Is an Employee Resource Group? (Plus How To Make One)

11. Keep operations going

Leaders may offer encouragement and guidance to help regular operations continue during a time of change. This may help team members feel like they're still contributing, even if the method of doing so differs from their regular contributions. The result may be a sense of normalcy that allows team member satisfaction and productivity.

Related: 11 Methods To Manage Organizational Change Successfully

Tips for leading people through change

Here are some tips for what to do when leading a team through change:

  • Be honest. While big changes can lead to uncertainty, it's often best for leaders to be honest about the things they know and the things you may benefit from understanding better. Leaders who receive challenging questions about the change can be transparent and describe how they plan to find out more.

  • Allow time for learning. People learn differently and at different paces. Allow plenty of time for team members to master new policies, new skills or new equipment.

  • Value feedback. Leaders may encourage open communication and provide a way for team members to voice their opinions, suggestions and concerns. This can help team members feel like their feedback is valuable.

  • Set an example. It can be helpful for leaders to stay positive around others. Approaching a change with an optimistic outlook can help team members learn to share that positivity.

  • Empathize. Recognize that big changes can surprise and concern team members. In response, leaders can extend kindness, patience and empathy to their team during transitions.

Related: What Is Open Communication? (With Benefits and Importance)

What to avoid when leading people through change

Here are several things to avoid when leading people through change:

Unrealistic expectations

Change can often be a slow process, especially when it involves many separate components, such as departments, managers or facilities. It can be helpful to approach a transition period with reasonable expectations, especially for activities like:

  • Implementing new policies or procedures

  • Onboarding new staff members

  • Introducing new products or services

It can also be helpful to set reasonable expectations for team member hours and ensure the team is taking regular breaks when necessary.

One person completing all the work

Effective leaders may delegate responsibilities to their team rather than trying to manage everything themselves. This may show the team that their leader trusts their abilities and considers them capable. It may also free up managerial time for leaders to focus on other demanding projects.

Related: 8 Top Leadership Weaknesses and Ways To Improve Them

Unilateral decisions

Diversity of opinions can help improve the decision-making process. This is because adding new perspectives on a topic may help you understand it in a new way. Including others in decisions can also help create an inclusive environment in which all team members feel that their opinions matter, which may help create a more sustainable work environment.

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