Oops! I forgot to account for the human toll of our brilliant organizational change plans!

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Happens all the time, right?

A pastor or leader resigns. Or worse. New leadership comes in to “right” the ship…or grow the vision…or clean house!

For the “victims” of an onerous leadership debacle, great optimism abounds that the new boss will be far superior, smarter, more caring and will definitely have more integrity than the last scoundrel. But is that always the case? And even if it is, how do the faithful anticipate and begin to make sense of a wholly new regime? How do they learn to “read” the new boss? Will they be able to resume working in their previous position with influence and authority?

Leadership and organizational change happens. It just does. And in some companies, far too often to be healthy. But what’s next and who’s paying attention to the “least of these,” you know, the real people — employees, followers and stakeholders?

Originally I had planned to blog on organizational change, why it happens and how it might happen more successfully. But the more I contemplated the issues involved, the more my thoughts were drawn to those most affected by the changes.

You’ve read my strong opinions on how employees and followers are too often mistreated, neglected, ignored and un- or under-appreciated. BTW, I’m in good company. Bob Chapman, CEO of manufacturing giant Barry-Wehmiller focuses attention on what he calls “truly human” leadership.

The focus moves away from more traditional forms of management-by-metrics to a people-centric approach that helps members feel valued and cared for like integral parts of his myriad companies’ purpose. He tells the story of transformation in his bookEverybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family.

Let’s dig in. Our starting point is the first day of the “change,” whatever that looks like in your experience or future. Clear and effective communication, which has always been the essential heart of True North leadership, is now far more important than ever before. In fact it can be argued that more communication will be needed in the days and weeks ahead of you than ever before.

What’s the very first thing your people will need? Answers. Answers to many questions, like:

· Why is this happening?

· Why now? What’s the rush?

· What would happen if we didn’t change (leaders/directions/focus)?

· I wonder if I can wait through this one — you know, outlast this new leader?

· Do I have options? What are they?

· What if I totally hate the new boss or direction?

· I’ve seen this before, and it’s bound to fail…too! Do I say anything?

· Is it safe to speak out? Or should I play the wait-and-see game?

Let’s stay with this first vital component of successfully navigating organizational change’s turbulent waters — COMMUNICATION. Actually: effective, persuasive and supportive communication.

The healthy and caring leader first creates a safe environment in which these questions are permissible. Whether in f-2-f group settings, electronic communication or via smoke signals, let’s establish a first response To Do list:

  1. Create a SAFE SPACE for questions and concerns. Then, actually attend (pay attention to) and respond honestly and authentically.

There is little worse than leaders paying lip service to “transparency” but behaving in every other way than reliably. This where TRUST is birthed. Or dies.

2. Explain with a sufficient degree of detail and background as you reasonably are able. Not everything must be disclosed to all people. But all concerned deserve as much background information as is appropriate.

Again, it is far worse to give far too much or far too little explication — especially when a leader has been removed. Gushing about the outgoing person’s “glorious accomplishments, their powerful love and care for people,” etc., etc., etc., can be as damning to the task of rebuilding trust in new leadership, especially when everyone knows that the opposite was far truer.

3. Do your best to answer each question, or find ways to aggregate a series of queries with real data, real life and real concern.

What has been your experience going through organizational change when the communication was not forthcoming, honest or worse, non-existent? The down-side effects can be devastating on several levels:

· Stress begins to sweep in like a tsunami.

Work related stress grows incrementally under any organizational change scenario. But when communication by leaders is AWOL, those stressors grow from emotional levels to actual physical health symptoms. Stress begets fear and worry. Which grow into pessimism and negativity. Which then morph into higher levels of unhealthy coping mechanisms: loss of sleep, over-eating, smoking, or using alcohol/substances to excess.

· Attitudes tank. Lower levels of job satisfaction result. Trust in leadership fails. Skepticism becomes cynicism. Desperation grows to find a new position in or out of the organization. Anything to escape what has begun to feel like a “sinking ship.”

· And amidst this swirl of negativity, focus and productivity are lost. Disillusioned employees who are frustrated, fearful and increasingly morose and angry will now not only question every new move, mandate and policy issued during the change, they’ll also become resistors of all change; any initiative will be met with the aforementioned list of defense mechanisms, but also with a growing belligerence and defiance.

Does this all sound too negative or dire? Won’t most people eventually settle down, adapt to the change, or at least kowtow fearing for their job and security?

Maybe.

But at what point does the unhealthy leader recognize the signs of mutiny aboard their organizational ship? We would do well to remember the oft-told parable that began with, “For want of a horseshoe nail, the kingdom was lost.” You know, the truism that seemingly unimportant acts — or omissions can have grave and often unforeseen consequences.

For want of clear communication…

For want of a strong leader unafraid to confront difficult questions…

For want of someone to provide healthy leadership and vision…

Let’s be generous. Even if the new leaders/regime have the most brilliant plan to turn things around. To grow with integrity. To truly have others’ best at heart….BUT DON’T COMMUNICATE those plans, it’s as if they don’t exist at all.

So, this is the perfect time to remind you of the Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders. The True North leader, during moments of crisis whether self-inflicted or brought on by some “black swan” event, can reliably do these things:

· Model the Way. Be honest. Forthcoming. Effusive with effectual communication that transparently addresses fears and concerns.

· Perfect time to Inspire a Shared Vision. New solutions. New directions. New goals. All have to make sense within the context of a vision espoused by leadership that can and should be easily adapted by all concerned. It’s time for impassioned visioning for the desired future by the True North leader.

· And in this NWO (New World Order), what better vehicle to enlist everyone in joint efforts than to Challenge the Process. Clearly, organizational change suggests or even screams that the old way didn’t work as well as we’d hoped. Together, let’s find common purpose and value in each other and in our efforts to create a new and better work place.

· To do so, the leader must Enable Others to Act. It must be more than inspiring speeches and emails. Or even cute posters on the walls. Please. The authentic True North leader sincerely and intentionally fosters collaboration, emboldening the “troops” to risk, fail, excel…in effect, to feel empowered to make the new plans work to everyone’s benefit.

· Then wrap it all up with a Chapman-like reminder to Encourage the Heart of every employee, manager, constituent. Build hope and optimism. Recognize and reward outstanding effort. But better yet, make your people feel like heroes.

Accomplishing the sometimes Herculean tasks of reaping great results from organizational change is daunting. When handled well by the Spirit-led True North leader, divine purposes become reality. But the opposite can be frightful and long-lasting. Poorly planned and executed change, laden with little or no communication can be devastating — to everyone.

Norm Mintle