Handling Leadership Change Within Your Organization
A leadership transition can represent a challenging time for employees, especially if the change brings uncertainty about the future of the organization or a new and unclear set of employee expectations. New leaders may not always inspire immediate trust, and among the workforce, resistance to change at the top can be powerful and emotional.
In my experience, I’ve learned that the difference between a smooth transition and a decent into total chaos often lies with one person: the human resource manager. Even if your company is large and your impact doesn’t feel significant, HR professionals can still exercise surprising control over the outcome of a rocky transition. With a few decisive, empathetic moves, you can quell a rising tide of anxiety and instill a sense of purpose and teamwork in the employees who turn to you for answers and guidance.
First, make sure you work hard to recognize approaching change in advance. The more you know about the change before it occurs, the better prepared you’ll be to take necessary action.
Second, remember that communication happens in multiple ways. You’ll need to distribute carefully written memos and emails about relevant policy changes, and you’ll need to plan any organizational meetings or training sessions the change will require. But just as important, your demeanor will do a great deal to convey a sense of calm and confidence in the new regime.
Third, use your ears. The three most important skills an HR manager can exercise during a time of high anxiety are listening, listening and listening. Listening and responding thoughtfully to employee concerns can steady the ship, but just as important, open ears can help you stay apprised of shifting feelings and ahead of potentially harmful rumors.
Finally, remember that employees will turn to you for cues regarding behavior that is acceptable or unacceptable. Your response to activities like rumor-mongering or backroom deal-making will have a subtle but powerful influence on an atmosphere of acceptance versus resistance. The same rule applies to positive behaviors like demonstrations of teamwork and flexibility.