Leading Change: How To Keep People Motivated When Chaos Reigns

September 21, 2016

leading change

As the old song tells us, the times they are a-changin’—and in business, that means the only thing you can really be sure of is that you can never be sure of anything. Change is the only constant, so to keep things running smoothly, you need to embrace not only innovation, but flexibility. Leading change in your organization is a delicate dance—and it’s one you need to learn, because you can’t get things done otherwise.

So what can you as a manager do to ensure that driving change doesn’t mean driving everyone on your team crazy? And how can you keep people motivated when that change involves more work—but not more pay?

Here are three ways to bring out the best in people when they’re not sure what tomorrow will bring:

1) Encourage your employees to step outside their comfort zone.

Everyone has something to contribute that isn’t necessarily in their job description. Evaluate your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and assign or reassign tasks according to what they do best. But talk to them first—ask what they’d like to try, and what they don’t like doing. You may find that one person’s dreaded task is on another’s wish list. If you give your staff the opportunity to try new things and allow them a reasonable amount of input into their jobs, they’ll be less likely to throw in the towel and look elsewhere when uncertainty and chaos reign.

2) Embrace your team’s feedback, and take their criticism if you expect them to take yours.

Ask for their suggestions, and be cognizant of the fact that criticism works both ways. There are certain aspects of their daily functions that you may not realize could use some improvement (or be dispensed with altogether), and your staff could be a bigger-than-expected force in driving change if you listen to what they have to say. An “a-ha” moment can come from anywhere, not just the top. And if your people come up with the big ideas, that reflects well on your abilities as a manager. It means you’re doing something right.

Don’t be overly negative in your criticism of their ideas, as that’s a good way to stifle innovation and openness. Be constructive, and try to balance negatives with positives. Remember, you need their trust—especially when leading change in uncertain times. If there is an obvious a dip in morale or attitude, ask what you can do to alleviate doubts and fears.

3) Let them know you value their loyalty and hard work.

During periods of upheaval and change, your staff will inevitably wonder what’s in it for them, and if it’s even worth it to stick around. It doesn’t cost anything to make people feel appreciated, and if they think you really value what they bring to the table, they’ll go above and beyond for you. Tell them they’re doing a good job, and when performance review time rolls around, show that their hard work has not gone unnoticed by giving them high marks. You may not be able to offer a raise just yet, but you can make it obvious that they’re a vital piece of the puzzle—not just an interchangeable part or a “warm body” filling a seat—and that you couldn’t get things done without them.

Leading change can be stressful, but it can also be an exhilarating period of creativity and innovation. Make it a group effort, and everyone wins.

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Leading your team through change, whether good or bad, takes a different set of skills. Let AMA's resources and seminars give you the tools you need to move your team and organization forward.

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American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.

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    […] Real change requires a conscious and deliberate shift in the way we think about goals and the habits that lead to success. These changes in thinking don’t focus on eliminating negative behaviors—they focus on positive behaviors and results. There has to be enough of an inherent benefit and reward for employees to overcome natural resistance to change, and that requires the altering of mindsets. It requires inner work on the part of the learner, the kind that only comes with in-depth training. […]

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