8 Ways Managers Can Help Employees Respond More Positively To Change

June 12, 2017

Responding to change

Given the rapid pace of change and the level of uncertainty and disruption in today’s world, one of the most important skill sets for managers to have is the ability to help employees embrace and respond effectively to change. Here are a few actions that will help you do so:

Explain the “why.” To paraphrase Nietzsche, “Employees can handle just about any what if they understand the why.” Your explanation of a change initiative should include the thought process behind the decision and the implications of not making the change.

Balance “I feel your pain” with “We need to move on.” This can be a tough balancing act for even the most compassionate, interpersonally savvy person. If you try to rush or shut down employees who are expressing their concerns and distress over the change, it is virtually guaranteed that you will pay for doing so in terms of sluggish execution and simmering resentment.

Communicate the vision and the end result using “future stories.” Describe what the end result will look and sound like in real life when the change is fully implemented. The more specific your future story, the better. Drill down to specific examples of what the vision will look like, and describe what you envision employees doing differently. This makes it far easier for them to grasp the vision.

Be specific in describing their role in making the vision a reality. When you clearly communicate the behaviors and actions that will make the vision a reality, you help employees contribute maximally to the success of the change effort. Providing “line of sight” between employees’ roles and organizational goals also encourages a feeling of control and mastery. Employees know what they need to do to be successful.

Address the “WIIFM.” If you’re not familiar with that acronym, it means “What’s in it for me?” This question must be answered if you are to be persuasive. As you communicate your vision and tell future stories, make sure you describe how the change will benefit employees, customers, and the company (and therefore job security).

Be truthful when addressing the impact the change on employees. While you want to talk about how an initiative will benefit your staff, you don’t want to spin something as having a positive impact on them when it does not. As you know from being on the receiving end of “company spin,” all it takes is one dishonest message from a leader to irrevocably damage trust in that person.

Don’t try to pretend that certain outcomes or changes are positive when they actually are a net loss for your team. Also, don’t try to hide from the downside realities. Honestly acknowledge them.

Invite feedback and make it safe for people to speak openly. You cannot let efficiency trump effectiveness. Cutting discussions short, either because you feel like you don’t have the time or you don’t want to listen to “negativity,” will cost you far more time later on. If people don’t feel like they had a chance to be heard, they will not try to understand your position. Their resentment, at best, make them not want to give it their all. At worst, it will make them want to actively sabotage the initiative.

Ask “What can I do to help?” and “How can we best support you?” First, asking these questions communicates respect. It assures people that your position is not, “Here are your marching orders. Whether you have what you need to make it happen is your problem.”

Second, these questions show that you understand your responsibility to support employees and allow them to produce the best results possible. This support includes removing unnecessary obstacles and providing the resources that make executing with excellence possible. Third, you will gain valuable information that can make the difference between a botched execution and one that unfolds efficiently.

While executing change is never easy, these actions will help you increase buy-in and enable your team to contribute to the success of the change initiative.

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As a new manager, you need to achieve team success—and that means building your skills in motivation, delegation, coaching, communication, performance management and leadership.

About The Author

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@Work and the creator of Stories That Change. He’s an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of Powerful Storytelling Techniques (ATD Press) and nearly 100 articles and book chapters, including one on using storytelling in onboarding in the third edition of The Talent Management Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 2017). You can contact him at, or follow him on Twitter at @HumanNatureWork.

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