The uncertain times of the Covid-19 pandemic have made it more important than ever for organizations to realize that change is happening at a greater pace and with a much greater impact than ever before. Staff are suddenly working remotely from home, leaders are trying to maintain business where possible and people are struggling to deal with all that is different today than a month ago. The elements of the Change Cycle© are more relevant than ever, including how successful leaders can respond to the stress and worry their employees are experiencing.
In general, employees first want the chance to communicate frequently with their leaders. In the early stages of change, this communication is in the form of listening more than talking. Yes, employees want to know what’s going on, but more importantly, they want to be heard and understood, even if they want only to express their concerns or ask questions. As time passes and more information is available and plans are made, that is the time for leaders to let employees know what the situation is.
In the early stages of the Change Cycle©, it is important to allow employees to express their fears—they often experience fears that are not the same as the ones leaders have. One discussion is to distinguish real from imagined fears. Often in the early stages of a change employees’ imagination creates fear that is not real, or that there is no evidence to support that it could really happen. Granted, there is much that is not known in this particular situation, but leaders would do well to keep the conversation around those things most likely to happen.
Another discussion is that of how much control individuals have over the situation. Leaders and staff identify those things they control and work to mitigate the negative effect of those things. There are many things during this time that are not under our control, and it serves to create stress to dwell on those things. Instead, put the mental energy into working on those things we can control, such as planning for how the organization will operate differently when the pandemic subsides.
Leaders can be most helpful in providing whatever information staff wants and needs—allow for two-way discussions online, and solicit individuals to be in touch one-on-one when desired. It is not possible to over-communicate during this period, and communication must be authentic and not falsely optimistic.
Give employees permission to feel what they feel. During times of great change every emotion is valid, and leaders must respect those emotions. Acknowledge them, show empathy and caring, and allow them to express those feelings without criticism.
The Change Cycle© has helped thousands of leaders and managers get their staff through difficult changes, and its concepts and actions are more relevant today than ever.