Managing the Turbulence of Organizational Change
Reorganizations. Project cancellations. Promotions. New technology. Management shake-ups. Budget cuts. New policies. A move to another building.
All these things are examples of major change. Although people vary in the way they respond to change, almost any major change can make you to feel like you’ve been turned topsy-turvy. Even as you strive to adjust to the change, you might find yourself becoming preoccupied, distracted, or fatigued, and you might experience anxiety, fear, anger, or uncertainty. These reactions are examples of turbulence, and turbulence in response to change is normal.
According to pilots, the turbulence you sometimes experience on a plane doesn’t represent a threat to the plane. You might feel like you’re going to die, but planes don’t crash because of it. (I was very pleased to read this!)
But whereas you have no control over what’s happening when you’re on a plane, you do have some control over the kind of turbulence triggered by major change. For example, if you’re overseeing a change, how you communicate with those affected can significantly decrease—or increase—the duration and intensity of that turbulence.
For example, you’re likely to increase the duration and intensity of the turbulence if you withhold information about what’s happening and how it will affect people. You’ll also add to the turbulence if you expect or demand an immediate adjustment on the part of those experiencing the change and refuse to accept that there may be a temporary drop in productivity as people adjust. And you’re bound to delay the adjustment to the change if you persistently find fault with people who make mistakes as they adjust.
Conversely, several things can help you reduce the duration and intensity of the turbulence. For example, treat the old way with respect, recognizing that it was a place of relative comfort and safety. To the extent possible, keep people informed about what’s happening. Acknowledge progress and even small successes. Empathize with the concerns of those affected.
If you’re in a position of leadership or aspire to such a position, it’s especially important to build trust before a major change occurs—and as early in the relationship as possible. That way, when a major change happens, those affected will be open to your ideas and advice and you will be in a strong position to minimize the duration and intensity of that turbulence.