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Jennifer Zanfardino

5 Ways to Manage the Disruption of Change

First Published in HR People and Strategy

Recently I’ve been in the path of a lot of changes. Since change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, there’s been this domino effect where one change that I didn’t spearhead inadvertently triggers the need for a second change that I do need to spearhead, and so on and so forth. 

Fortunately, my immediate response to change is usually pretty positive because I deeply believe change always offers an opportunity to grow and develop both professionally and personally. That said, dealing with change isn’t all sunshine and puppies. Even when the change is ultimately for the better, like a promotion or purchasing a new home, it’s still disruptive and uncomfortable at first. As I have been navigating and adjusting to all the changes happening to and around me, I’ve been reminded of just how important good, clear communication is throughout the change process. Because of that, I’ve prepared for almost every conversation I’ve had over the last six weeks, whether it’s been with my team, my husband, or even my parents, using the questions below:

1. What tone should be used for the communications?
It’s important to recognize change isn’t all good or all bad, but somewhere on a spectrum. Additionally, while I might feel a change is for the better, another person might experience the news differently. For this reason it’s important to make sure you’re delivering news about the change with the right tone. Be sincere. Know your audience. Respect your audience. Some news can be delivered with humor, and other news should avoid it altogether. Remember, people connect with other people, not talking heads or pawns delivering rehearsed, superficial messages.

2. What information needs to be shared about the change?
Learning about a change usually results in the audience having a lot of questions. They’re entitled to those questions. Especially when the change directly impacts them. It’s important to answer those questions as honestly and sincerely as possible. And it’s okay if you don’t have all the information—sharing the information you do have will help your audience understand why the change is being made, what the expected results are and how you see it affecting them.

3. What are the individual’s responsibilities with the change?
One of the reasons people negatively respond to change is because they’re not exactly sure what or how to change. If the expectations are left undefined, it’s easy to get lost in ambiguity and uncertainty—and that’s when frustration and resistance can occur. To avoid misalignment clearly and specifically outline the individual roles and responsibilities with the change. By defining the responsibilities early on, both parties can manage expectations and get aligned on how to support each other throughout the process. Remember, the more direction and information people have about a change, the less likely they are to be fearful and resistant.

4. What results are we hoping to achieve with the change?
When you don’t know where you’re going, it’s really hard to know if you’ve arrived. That’s why it’s absolutely necessary to communicate the desired final destination. Additionally, there may be many different ways to arrive at the same outcome. If people know where they need to go, they can adapt in a way that works best for them. Offering autonomy and ownership early in the process increases the likelihood of the audience becoming invested in the success of the change, and that’s beneficial for everyone.

5. Where/when/how should we communicate to help people understand the change?
There’s a time and place to talk about changes. Not taking the time to plan how, when, and where you’re going to deliver the news is inconsiderate, unproductive, and runs the risk of falling on deaf ears. In order to mitigate the risk of resistance, it’s important to deliver messaging where, when and how people will be most receptive to it. Make sure both parties have the time and presence to engage in a dialogue about the change when delivering the news.

Every change offers us some opportunity—to grow, to step out of our comfort zone, to take a new perspective. Unfortunately, it’s easy to lose sight of that opportunity when distracted by uncertainty and confusion about what that change means and how it will be experienced. If you’re responsible for leading the change conversation, take the time to ensure you’re communicating with the right tone, correct messaging, and in a space where people will be most receptive. Doing so will help position employees to recognize the opportunity that comes with change.