4 Key Lessons to Learn When Managing Change


Every day, organizations are faced with tough decisions and sometimes they are managing situations that are life-changing for the employees.

Perhaps they are managing a downturn in their market and are laying off staff, or maybe the company was purchased and the buyer has plans that don’t include everyone on the team. Managers are often left with the messy task of managing that change and transition, and it can be a very difficult time.

Based on my 20+ year career, I have learned a lot about tough choices and cleaning up messes and I thought it would be interesting to share some of those lessons.

Lesson 1 – It’s a Choice

Change happens; it’s a reality. No one is immune to change and everyone will experience great changes as well as not so great changes over the course of their lives.

In my experience, the key to managing change is to make a choice.

How do I want to be in this moment? Do I want to be a victim or do I want to rise up and meet this challenge? This is an important distinction that can make or break a person’s ability to adapt. Then, the trick is to choose and follow that path. Commit to it and honour your choice.

Organizations, or the collective of people who make up the “Employer”, also have to ask themselves: “What kind of employer do we want to be?” This is a critical milestone to the journey that the organization is on.  Make a choice.  Then, live with your choice and don’t blame anyone for what happens next. You made a choice.

Lesson 2 – Communication is Key

Throughout any change process, open communication is critical to the process.  Openly share information about what is happening, what you know and what you don’t know.  Don’t keep secrets and there should be no taboo topics.  The more people feel informed and included, the more open conversations can be had about how people are feeling and experiencing the change.

For example, giving people permission to openly discuss their job search when they know they are being laid off can create an environment of taking control of their individual destiny. This is highly empowering and removes any of the lying people feel they have to do in order to make their next job happen.

Lesson 3 – Indecision is a Decision

Every day is a new day filled with leadership moments to make decisions and take action.  Sometimes the decisions will be difficult and sometimes they will be easy but one thing is for sure, there is always a decision to be made.

It is challenging, at times, to know what to do or which direction to take on issues and there is never enough time to mull things over.  What can be painful, however, is the realization that not making a decision is akin to making a decision and sometimes, it won’t be the decision you want.

The best thing you can do is to put tools and support around you that will help you make quick decisions.  Whether it’s consulting your team of trusted advisors, to help you talk things through, or monitoring your timelines to make sure you don’t miss milestone moments, take control of the decision making process before it gets away from you.

Lesson 4 – Support Comes From Many Places

The role of leader in any organization can be really lonely at times. You are responsible for the direction of the organization or department and the outcomes that it produces. You are, at times, the “monkey in the middle” between a variety of stakeholders and there may not be a lot of people in the organization who see the big picture like you do. There are also not a lot of people who will likely understand the challenges and the pressures that you face.

Having said that, keep an open mind as to where the support may come from during these times of transition and change. Don’t shut people out as you stress about what is coming – let people in and accept their love, support and encouragement. Remind yourself that being a leader doesn’t mean that you don’t have feelings or vulnerabilities, so let your team of trusted advisors in on how you are doing and feel the support that they can provide.

If you don’t have a team of trusted advisors, build one. Don’t forget those other leaders out there in other organizations. Some of the best support I have received in my career has come from leaders in other organizations who have been through challenging times themselves.

Your Engaged Assignment: If you are in a period of change (and who isn’t really?) take the time to ask yourself these questions and evaluate where you stand on these lessons.

Do they resonate with you?

Where could you improve and where can you reach out and help someone else that you know is managing change?

Maybe you can be lifted by someone and maybe you can provide the lift.