All leaders have been there at some point in their career. You move into a new role with a mission to “turn it around.” In a perfect world we would get to pick our team, our industry, and our product. So what do you do when you’re charged with being the new leader of a resistant team?
To start with, you have to identify who’s on your team. Of course, there can be as many different ways to deal with change as there are types of people, but here are some common ways that people present themselves when dealing with change:
Traditionalists: These are people who find comfort in the known and familiar. They take pride in the established systems/methods that they have developed. When you implement changes, you may be perceived as attacking their prior work. Presenting change too quickly can ignite these individuals.
Behind the Scenes: These folks can be passive/aggressive in their approach. They may be fine one on one, or in meetings, but will have completely different conversations with their peers. They can be difficult to identify because they aren’t forthright in their communications. Even so, they make a significant impact on perceptions of the team overall.
Bullies: It may be the person who was passed over for the role you received, or simply the person who always has to have his/her way. In either case, Bullies are usually easy to identify, but working with them can be hit or miss depending on whether you can, or want to, gain their trust.
Cheerleaders: These are the optimists of the group. They want things to be better and will latch on quickly to new ideas/initiatives that they think will make a positive impact.
Go with the Flow: These are the folks in the middle. They are willing to get on board if they like the direction that they see, but they are equally willing to sit back and watch a train wreck. They rarely register their frustrations publically unless something directly affects them in a negative manner.
So what do you do when trying to lead change for a varied group of personalities? Here are some options that can help leaders navigate the minefield:
Assess your need for speed: Change is much easier to accept if it can be completed over a period of time. If the situation is dire and needs immediate action, clearly communicate the need for urgent action. If it’s not an emergency, use a more methodical approach. This will make change more palatable for your Go with the Flow, Traditionalists, and Behind the Scenes folks.
Honor previous work: Remember that every process and system is a work product of someone on your team and served a purpose in its day. You can change them, but be clear on what changes have led to the need for the system to evolve or the benefits of the new approach. This will be particularly helpful to your Traditionalists and will take away ammunition from the Bullies.
Communicate openly: The more you tell people about the need for change, what is changing and why, the more comfortable they will be with it. Communicate often and in a variety of mediums. Provide opportunities for two way communication to ensure that you are hearing concerns. While the Traditionalists, Behind the Scenes and Bullies may be suspicious of your message, The Go with the Flow and Cheerleaders will appreciate the clarity. All of them will need to hear it.
Prioritize changes: When changing a lot all at once, you will want to avoid change for the sake of change. Don’t spend your capital on changes that distract from your vision.
Connect directly: People will more likely follow your lead if you take the time to connect with them directly. One on one conversations, are the best way to encourage people to follow your lead and build critical mass. Everyone appreciates the opportunity to be recognized and direct conversations are a way to make certain people feel that they are in on things. Don’t underestimate the value of connecting directly with all types of people during a period of change.
At the end of the day, change can be hard for both leaders and teams. It’s especially hard for Traditionalists, Bullies, and Behind the Scenes folks. Depending on the significance of the change, some people will not want, or be able, to adapt. If a person has a willingness to change and grow, even if they are extremely challenging throughout the process, you can almost always find a way to make it work. If no willingness exists, then you should recognize that you are fighting an uphill battle. At that point, you may need to make one of the most difficult changes; providing a graceful way for that individual to exit.
When changing the direction of a team, it takes clarity, patience, and lots of communication. It’s not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are significant.