How to Lead Your Team Through Change

The novel coronavirus sent global markets into disarray. The 90% economy feels much smaller for a lot of people, and businesses have had to adapt, harshly in some cases. 

Restructuring, factories shutting down and massive layoffs are only the beginning of what seems to be a special kind of economic crisis. We’re going through undoubtedly hard times. While there may be a silver lining here – more about that in my piece on why businesses can be optimistic during the pandemic – businesses still need to go through change.

That’s not something new. It’s something that you, as a leader, should be prepared for. And if you lead your team correctly, you will not only settle their nerves but actually energize them to perform within their new structure or system.

The changes companies go through

Pandemics wreaking havoc on the world economy are (hopefully) not a recurring event, at least not in a matter of decades. However, economic downturn is much more common, since the free market economy works in cycles.

And much of what businesses go through nowadays is not uncommon. News of layoffs, factories shutting down and restructurings were a dime a dozen back in the 2008 housing market bubble, and some businesses are facing those realities in the current climate. Even when you’re doing well and have many reasons to be optimistic, changes can still be necessary for future growth. Sometimes you need to be able to cut budgets and inspire a cost-conscious mindset, without worrying people about whether or not your business can stay afloat.

On the other end of the spectrum, rapid growth or a big influx of capital can have similar effects. Sure, growth doesn’t lead to layoffs, but doubt and discontent can seep into your employees nonetheless. 

Pivots are similar that way. If your business has to adapt to shifting market trends, or just to meet an overwhelming customer demand, people may be left confused or worried about their day to day activities.

But on a hopeful note – change can also mean enthusiasm, involvement and resilience from your employees. You just have to nudge them in the right direction.

Let’s see how to do that.

The leader’s role in change management

As a leader, you have to be nothing short of understanding and decisive during times of change. Your team looks towards you for guidance, so it’s important to make time to hear out their anxieties, but it’s also crucial to steer your ship with vigor.

If you let doubt seep into your mind as well, you won’t make the best out of big company changes. The easiest way to get around that pitfall is to focus on your company’s mission and core values.

If you’re going through hard times, default back to the principles that made you grow until that point. Understand why your employees love to work for you, and double down on that. Similarly, take some time to analyze your customers. Understand what made them choose you instead of anyone else, and you can even make a crisis work in your advantage.

If you’re going through a period of booming growth, understand where you’re headed and what needs to change (or stay the same) in order for you to succeed. If you’re planning to use your technology to target a different niche, don’t just default to what made you successful so far. Do your best to understand the market you’re heading towards and adapt to it.

If you, as the leader, find focus during a period of change, you’ll be best positioned to help everyone navigate through that change. However, there’s more you can do, so let’s look at some tips and tricks for navigating changing times.

Understand the intricacies of the change

If you need to announce a major change to your business direction or team structure, you can’t just announce it and hope for the best. It’s important to understand who’s affected by the change and what they might be concerned about. 

Moreover, trying times make people afraid of the future. So don’t just announce that you’re making a big change without showing people what success will look like once it has been implemented. Do your best to make projections of what’s going to happen in the future, and how your team will win with the new system.

It’s also important to write all of this down. If your company is going through a merger, or if you just had a successful exit and you’ll move your HQ to Silicon Valley, you need to understand that everything can be confusing. Not just for your employees, but for you as well. It’s important to keep a written track of every point you analyze about the change you’re going through.

Draft a clear communication strategy

When you’ve got a roadmap of the change you’re going through, it’s important to communicate that effectively.

If you lead a small startup that’s just going to restructure a team it might not be that hard. Just schedule a meeting with the people involved and go through the reason why that change is happening, and how it’s all expected to develop.

However, if you’re leading a big branch of a multinational company during a period of economic downturn, you might need to be more careful about how you present the change to your team. If you have a lot of people under you, it might even be worth drafting some talking points and a roadmap of decisions, as well as when your team is notified about them. Think about your company’s needs and decide accordingly.

Be honest and blunt

Wrapping a bad situation in cotton wool is just as bad as underselling a massive opportunity for your company. You should never let social niceties or fear take control of how you lead your team through change. 

Don’t hide the changes your company is going through. If you’re not honest, you can lose a lot of legitimacy as a leader when the truth comes out. Just do the situation justice and present it as accurately as you can, with all the opportunities or threats it presents.

Then listen. Understand what your team is going through and do your best to communicate effectively and draw everyone back to your company’s vision and values. Focus on what kept you going so far, and you’ll make the best out of the changes ahead.

How do you lead your team through change?