MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Help your team through the change curve

How can managers help their teams deal with the upheaval of a major change? Here are ten top tips.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

When staff are faced with a major change at work - redundancy, for example, or a big merger - they react in much the same way as they would to a major change in their personal life. This often takes the form of the change curve, where people experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (usually in that order). So how can managers steer their teams through the curve effectively? MT asked Ameet Thakkar, a consultant at business psychologists OPP, for his top tips.

1. Engage hearts and minds
Ultimately all change is psychological. Unless hearts and minds are engaged in the change process, your people will get stuck somewhere along the change curve. If people haven’t fully moved through the curve, the change can fail to gain support from your people and will more than likely fail.

2. Give people a chance to adapt
Building space in your planning to engage your people will help them get to grips with the change. Remember that even positive change involves letting go of something. Good change management therefore acknowledges this loss as the starting point for subsequent acceptance.   

3. Don’t forget yourself
One of the most common mistakes managers make when leading their teams through change is forgetting themselves. The change is happening to you too. Understanding your own reactions and biases will help to manage your own experience in a constructive way and therefore help to facilitate the change amongst the rest of your team.

4. Don’t skip stages
Another common basic mistake made by many managers during change is trying to force the pace. Recognise that your people will take time to go through the stages of the change curve, and that trying to skip any of the stages could make the process last longer or mean that people get stuck – sometimes for years! 

5. Don't use yourself as a benchmark
Different groups are likely to be at different stages in the curve – especially in comparison to the people who are devising and driving changes forward.

6. Tailor your approach
Different personalities will react to change in different ways. Having a framework to recognize these differences can be crucial. For example, if you use an MBTI framework, you’d be able to identify which of your team has a preference to focus on the rational reasons for the change and view it as a 'task', and which are more likely to focus on the people impact and the disruption to relationships. Both are likely to go through the curve in different ways, and both require a different management approach.

7. Understand the psychological contract
Every employer has a psychological contract with their employees – what both sides expect of each other in the workplace. Change often leaves employees feeling some elements of these contracts have been broken. Understand what parts of the contract are important to your people, and try to avoid any damage that could be caused by the changes - because once the contract and trust is broken, it can be difficult to recreate.

8. Deal with short term needs
Identify what the team needs to achieve in the short term as they go through the curve. Be clear with your team here, but above all be realistic. As they go through the different stages of the curve, your team is likely to be less effective than normal. Agree what needs to be done, and build in some time for the inevitable inefficiencies.

9. Avoid a 'quick fix' approach
The temptation may be to give one big, motivational speech and assume your people will speed through the grief curve. But different people need different things; a quick fix won't have a lasting effect on the majority of people. For some, changing their hours or more flexible working may help them stay engaged with the organisation and feel that they're getting something back for accepting the change. For others, it could be about making sure that they are clear about how their role fits within the organisation’s future and vision.

10. Be clear about the future
The more clarity and information you can give about how the change impacts the team (and the individuals within it), the quicker your people will be able to accept the change and re-engage with the organisation.

Ameet Thakkar is principal consultant at business psychologists OPP.

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