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Tactics for Managing Change

In Personal Strategies & Goal, Leadership, Execution, Managing Risk, Anecdotes by Steve Sliwa

Managing change in an organization is crucial for encouraging new growth and instilling confidence in employees. Therefore, managers must provide leadership and inspire employees to make changes themselves.

After observing changes in numerous industries, I created an 11-item checklist for managers to use to manage and promote change.

1. Be a Change Agent

Embrace change instead of simply letting it happen. Become involved, and be an agent of it. Work hard to realign the way you think about it. Typically, when organizations experience change, there are gaps and spaces – organizational uncertainty – about things like ill-defined roles.

2. Utilize the Empowerment

Many times, the best way to be a change agent is to utilize the empowerment you have been given and do a power grab. If there are things to accomplish, just do it! Don’t wait until deciding if it is the organization’s responsibility or yours. If it’s a gap and needs to be filled, then fill the gap.

3. Focus on Short-Range Objectives

When you are trying to work on change, instead of looking at the big vision of where you want to go, create a series of short-range objectives. It is good for you, the manager, as well as the organization that reports to you.

4. Get Resistance Out in the Open

As you manage the changes, understand any resistance that is out there. In other words, if you are proposing something different, make sure to:

  • Propose it,
  • Get it out there, and
  • Figure out why there is resistance to it.

That way, you can understand how it is going to work. In fact, you can couch it like this, “Hey, we’re going to be agile. Let’s perform an experiment. You have these reasons why it won’t work, but we want to try to move in this direction. Let’s do this for x period of time and see if those concerns come up. Then, we can adjust.”

5. Lead by Being a Motivator

If you are a line manager and trying to be a change agent, encourage and motivate people to be willing to experiment, be agile, and be leaders. Leaders create followers. That is a crucial part of the process as is motivation.

6. Encourage Initiative

It is important to realize that all the ideas cannot be yours as the manager. Encourage the initiative from people reporting to you. If you can ultimately get people motivated and following you, then have them help you establish short-range objectives. Get them to find the power grabs out there and be their own change agent. The best thing a manager can do is to lead a group of fellow change agents. 

7. Create a Supportive Work Environment

During this time of change, people will be more stressed than not. For example, they may be thinking … Does this change mean that my job is going to change? Will I still be needed? I won’t be as valuable. The people I work with might not be here because of the reorganization.

Those are all the thoughts going through people’s minds when they are in the middle of a major change. Create the most supportive work environment that you can so that people have a chance to feel comfortable and have a safe space. They need to know that there will be good communication throughout the process.

8. Pass Out More Psychological Paychecks

Because of all the stress, you must provide more psychological paychecks. In other words, subconsciously they are thinking, “Is my job going away or changing? What’s going to happen to the people around me?”

Before they put those thoughts into words, pay them the support they need by saying, “Wow, what you’re doing is really valuable. I’m sure glad we have you doing that. I can’t imagine what we would do if we didn’t have you.”

Little encouragements like that go a long way. Before people can figure out the words to describe the stress they are feeling, they already have reinforcement. They think to themselves, “Hey, wait a minute. My boss just told me how this couldn’t be done by anyone else but me. Wow! That’s really cool.” Once that individual is comfortable, they can help the other people around them to accept the change. That is an excellent way for managers to create change agents within their organization. 

9. Increase Communication

What I have just talked about has really increased communication, which is a critical part of a supportive environment. But another crucial element is to ensure that people communicate with each other effectively. 

10. Reduce the Level of Job Stress

Do whatever you can to reduce the level of job stress during times of change. This is not the time to do 10% more with 10% less time and resources. This phase requires extra space for people to maneuver. Provide opportunities for them to think about things – how to be a change agent and what are ways to be able to do that.

11. Proactively Encourage Risk-Taking

Do whatever you can do to make employees feel better so that they are comfortable with change. Once this occurs, the next step is to encourage team members throughout your organization to proactively take on risk.

Sliwa Leads by Example

When I was at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University as their new President, I was concerned about trying to create change and to encourage the faculty members and managers to follow suit.

I gave a speech to about 1,500 people and talked about how it was important to have a model to reduce risk aversion because many things are broken and need fixing. One reason that there was little change was that people were afraid of making mistakes. It was a very control-oriented organization, partially because of the extensive military influence. I tried to send the message that we must reduce the risk of making mistakes. My main point was, “Don’t be afraid of making mistakes!”

I encouraged people to:

  • Not be afraid of making mistakes.
  • Identify them.
  • Correct them.
  • Avoid them in the future.
  • Learn from the experience.

Early on, I made what many of the faculty viewed as a major mistake. I appointed a dean who they did not feel comfortable with, nor did they approve of the process I used. I had consulted numerous people about the position, talked it out, found out what I required, and then made a selection.

They were not happy with that. After a couple of days of people visiting me and explaining how upset they were, I said, “Okay. I made a mistake and will correct it. For this particular dean position, I will list my requirements and ask the faculty to conduct a search and provide three candidates. From there, I will make the final choice.” They liked that idea and moved forward. Even though we ended up with a candidate who did not satisfy all my requirements, it was a joint project. 

About six months later when I had built some rapport, several faculty members said to me, “Yes, Sliwa leads by example. He told us to go out there and make mistakes. And by golly, that’s what he did. Right from the beginning, he made a huge blunder.” I had to chuckle about that because it is a fun faculty interpretation of the situation. It ended up being a little endearing. 

About five to eight years after I left Embry-Riddle, some faculty members were talking to faculty at another institution. They said some kind things about my tenure and also brought up the fact that I encouraged taking risks and making mistakes. I had also made plenty of errors in the beginning, such as the dean appointment, but I was willing to correct them. At the time, they were shocked that a President would listen and be willing to admit and correct his/her mistakes.

I was true to my principles. If you make a mistake, own it, correct it, and then avoid it in the future. That experience created endearment between the faculty and me.

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