We spend a great deal of time preparing management for the challenges and opportunities that occur during significant change. As a consultant, I’m guilty of occasionally forgetting the difficult position of the “middle,” so my presentation today was a good reminder of the challenging tasks we ask other people to do. Pity the middle manager – we are a boss and we have a boss. When change hits, we are placed right in the mosh pit.

Let’s use an organizational “re-design” as an example ~ an automatic reaction by most people is to push the “OH SH*T” button, circle the wagons, and store up on non-perishables. That reaction includes managers, who are then asked to lead their subordinates through the change process. Not an easy task, but an absolutely critical responsibility if change is to be successfully implemented. You are sometimes asked to do this with limited information, limited resources, and little in the way of job security – change is impacting you as well.

"Ain't this a peach?"

“Ain’t this a peach?”

Without diving into too much of the modeling aspect of change, here are some helpful things for managers to remember, compliments of the Pritchett model of “Change Essentials“:

  • It’s okay ~ You’re allowed to freak out; as a matter of fact, it’s not a bad idea to go ahead and get that out of your system early on. People who blindly accept that “all change is good” are usually blowing smoke up your chimney. It’s not necessarily “good,” it’s just a reality.
  • We’re not asked to vote, just to implement ~ Let’s assume you had the previously mentioned “episode.” Now, it’s time to get to work – as much as we would like to give our input and/or opinion on the change, we weren’t really part of the decision process. The job at hand is to lead your people through the change, and doing so without doubting the wisdom of those who did make the change.
  • Fake it until you get there ~ Yes, the dreaded “company man;” might be the toughest part of leadership, finding that line between corporate shill and self-respect. You have a choice to make – if the change is so fundamentally against your personal grain, it might be time for you to take the high (and exiting) road.
  • Use resistance as an energy boost ~ For your direct reports, encourage and promote questions. As a direct report, find ways to bring concerns up the corporate ladder to your own boss. Resistance does not necessarily mean “defiance,” it could be an indication of a hole in the communication.
  • Keep ’em close ~ Make sure you know who the indispensables are on your team. Dr. Pritchett uses a quote, “Strong swimmers are the first to jump overboard.” Sums it up pretty well…don’t be left with deck chairs and the orchestra.

Change is unsettling, uncomfortable, and sometimes quite painful. As a leader of people, you have the unique privilege of catching this confusion up and down the corporate chain. Your ability to successfully deal with and capitalize upon times of change is what will separate you from the pack.

Now go have that freak out, I’ll give you five…

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues. 

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