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Change Without the Drama

By: Marlene Chism
Last updated 1/31/2011

The ability to gracefully navigate change is one of the biggest challenges for managers and leaders in times of uncertainty. Although the phrase “embrace change” is catchy and popular, it’s difficult to do. When presented with any change in structure or routine, workers become fearful that the result will create chaos in their lives and careers. Add to those fears worries about downsizing, increased workloads, and keeping up with technology, and you’ve set the stage for high drama.

What is drama? I define it as “any obstacle to your peace or prosperity.” If workers are to succeed, leaders must recognize, address, and eliminate the drama that change can create.

The following four strategies for navigating change will help leaders manage the drama:

1. Clear the Fog
Lack of clarity is one of the core components of drama. The brain craves certainty, so in the midst of rapid change—whether the change is due to economic forces, technology or innovation—it’s natural for employees to experience stress as a reaction to facing the unknown. That is why clear, ongoing communication about rules and expectations is so important when introducing change.

It is easy to lose clarity in the midst of rapid change. For example, if over time your systems have changed and you have not updated or educated your employees about these changes, there will be confusion—and confusion always leads to drama.

Apply It: Every change impacts something else in your company. With each change, ask yourself if you have updated your processes and procedures, job descriptions, employee handbook, and standard operating procedures. Provide ongoing training around the changes as needed.

To create and retain clarity, leaders should hold regularly scheduled meetings with a clear agenda that includes metrics or benchmarks to measure and celebrate success. Distribute the agenda to employees in advance and ask them to come prepared with reports, ideas, and acknowledgement of other team members. This will keep everyone in the loop, create a sense of certainty, and build camaraderie.

2. Reinvent and Realign
How do you see yourself as a leader? One of the main reasons for employee turnover is poor supervisory skills, especially a boss who uses his or her authority to intimidate others. Yet many bosses remain totally unaware of how others see them.

In my book, Stop Workplace Drama, I introduce a model called the Johari Window. This method–created in 1969 by American psychologist Joseph Lift and Harry Ingham—helps people gain a better understanding of their interpersonal communication and relationships. The underlying notion is that each of our personalities is divided into four categories:

1. The part of ourselves that both we and others see
2. The aspects that others see about us but that we do not see
3. The subconscious part of us that neither we nor others see
4. Our private self, which we know but keep from others

Apply It: Take a personal inventory. Ask yourself: What am I committed to? Do people see me the way I see myself? (Ask others for input, if you dare). Am I representing the self I want to represent? If not, you have some reinventing and realigning work to do if you want to reach your leadership potential.

3. Identify the Gap
Growth and change always create a gap between where you are and where you want to be. The larger the gap, the more unknown variables exist, and the more that uncertainty can result in drama. To create a sense of certainty, leaders must learn how to keep the vision, but shorten the gap.

Apply It: Break down large goals into smaller, manageable goals—and hold regular meetings to celebrate people’s small successes. When employees have a sense of accomplishment and success, they stay engaged and motivated. During these meetings, you can address the problems and adjust your expectations. This keeps you in the loop and helps you manage the workload and available resources.

Shorten the gap by continually asking two questions of yourself and your employees:
1. Do you know what is required to get the job done?
2. Are you willing to do what is required?

If you make a habit of asking these questions during change initiatives, you and your team members will be clear about responsibilities and deadlines.

4. Release Resistance
Another way drama impacts forward movement is through complaining and negativity: “It’s not fair.”  “I will never agree to that.” “You are wrong.” “I didn’t get it done is because…”

Resistance is the non-acceptance of what is, and the unwillingness to move. You cannot move forward when heels are dug in and the team refuses to cooperate. Resistance breeds negativity, and negativity is one of the biggest productivity killers.

Apply It: Managers must create a no complaint, no excuse and no regret workplace. The first step in overcoming resistance is to teach employees to accept what is, without complaint or excuse. (Remember that you too, must walk the talk.) Think of the time savings if instead of venting and finger-pointing, people collaborated on ideas and solutions. When communicating with employees about change, tell them what you want rather than what you don’t want. Keep it positive.

Change is especially challenging when it is unexpected or unwanted, but even then, it does not have to create chaos and drama. Smart leaders manage change effectively by creating a sense of certainty through clarity, shortening the gap, and moving quickly to overcome resistance and help employees accept what is while finding positive solutions. Then they can leave the drama to Natalie Portman, Leo DiCaprio, and Meryl Streep.

About the Author(s)

Marlene Chism is a professional speaker and the author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley, 2011). For more information, visit www.stopworkplacedrama.com