Most organizations don’t even start talking about their team members’ ability to embrace change until there is a major change such as organizational restructuring, a merger or acquisition or significant leadership changes. This is a common mistake shared by many, in times where frequent change has become the norm. Embracing change is not something that can be expected of team members without the wider organization-wide understanding that embracing change and thriving through it is an essential part of the company’s DNA and what gives it its competitive edge.
If you are a company that currently goes through organizational changes- take a wider approach to change implementation and embrace it as part of your culture and part of your organizational identity. If you are not experiencing large scale changes as a company (rare to find these days, but possible) you still need to work on creating an organizational culture of adaptability as part of your proactive planning for remaining competitive and being prepared to be able to adapt quickly and effectively.
Here are the seven most important steps for creating an organizational culture of adaptability. These are essential for leaders to follow because organizational culture always carries its impact from the top to the bottom, from leadership to team members. When leaders embrace an adaptable approach, team members will follow.
- Utilize Surveys:
Surveys provide valuable information at any time, but much more so through a change process. A good survey will prevent guessing and assuming how team members are doing and what their thoughts are, and can be extremely valuable in channeling of focus, time and effort while implementing change. On top of that, surveys are also an opportunity to show team members that they are heard, validated, and valued. Once you have the survey’s results, make sure to take action accordingly and communicate to the team exactly what was heard and what was done. This will serve as a wonderful tool for increasing engagement and commitment.
- Clarify the Narrative of WHY Adaptability is So Essential:
When the skeptics doubt the process of implementing change and becoming more adaptable to it, leaders and team members alike need to be clear on the why: why is this change necessary and what exactly is happening. Too often leaders are unclear about the narrative of change and when asked ‘why’ questions from team members that express doubts and concern, answer in vague and unproductive answers that essentially communicate ‘I don’t know, it came from the top’. Every change process has a ‘why’ narrative. Leaders need to make sure that they can define the change narrative very clearly, in one or two sentences. If they cannot do that, they need to turn to their leaders and make sure that they get the answers for those below them.
- Be Clear
Clarity is a leader’s best way to lead his or her team through change successfully. The greatest challenge when it comes to change implementation is that change creates anxiety to many. When team members are anxious (about the future or their own status or performance- mostly from the unknown), it is hard for them to work effectively. Anxiety literally hurts performance. The best thing for leaders to do to mitigate anxiety through change is to be as clear as they possibly can about expectations, deadlines, roles, rules, and procedures. When the leader is clear, the team can perform better and quite quickly regain a sense of control and accomplishment. Leaders, ask yourself this- am I clear in my communications? Does my team get clear and spelled out guidelines as far as what exactly I expect, by when and how? Do not leave any room for interpretation. It is your role as the leader to help your team members thrive through change rather than judge them for struggling to do so. The best thing you can do in order to be helpful to your team is to be as clear as you possibly can.
- Be Accessible
Creating a culture of adaptability requires additional support efforts from leaders. Support from leaders in a culture of adaptability comes into play in three major aspects:
- Listening attentively
- Communicating openly
- Guiding actively
We are all busy, and leaders oftentimes get busier on multiple levels through times of pending or active organizational change. For that reason, leaders should strategically and purposefully ensure their accessibility to team members so that they can actively and immediately provide the necessary support through a change process. Leaders should always make it a point to be accessible. But creating a culture of adaptability means additional and strategic efforts in the accessibility front. Make it a point to hear what team members are communicating, formally (via surveys) or informally (talk to them and hear them out. Get involved). An accessible and trusted leader is a leader whose team will thrive through change.
- Be Non-Judgmental
It is beyond frustrating for leaders to deal with those team members that resist change and dig their heels in the ground. Nothing is more frustrating to leaders who lead changes that will benefit the organization than to hear the all dreaded ‘but we’ve been doing it that way for the past 30 years and it worked just fine”. Frustration aside, let’s realize that leaders’ role through a change process is to be helpful to team members to adapt and succeed in implementing changes and adjusting quickly and effectively, rather than judging those that are having a hard time. In creating and promoting a culture of adaptability, leaders must keep in mind that they are dealing with a diversity of personalities, age groups, cultures, and levels of change agility. Many people also feel overwhelmed because they have a lot going on in their personal lives with family members, health or finances. Many also deal with anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles. Get out of judgment and frustration with people’s mode. Your role as a leader is first and foremost to help everyone around you perform at their best. Every day presents opportunities to help your team members thrive. Do not miss any of them.
- Strategically Recognize Effort
Adapting to change takes a lot of energy and demands team members to spend more energy in the workplace than they already are. Many will feel the burn out the impact of the additional effort and one of the most common mistakes that leaders make through a change process is focusing on the difficulty, frustration, and burn out that they feel themselves and failing to recognize their team’s efforts. When creating a culture of adaptability, it is critical for leaders to pay attention: to pay attention to the effort, to pay attention to great things that are happening, and to take the time and make the effort to recognize great things that are happening. Too often I ask leadership teams to give me examples of genuine compliments that they have given their team members this past week for work that they have done, just to get a room full of people scratching their heads. The mind tends to focus on the negative, be aware of it and strategically and intentionally refocus yourself to recognize good things that are happening. The more you recognize them, the more good you are going to see.