Nothing, says Bryan Whitefield. It’s the uncertainty that is the killer. In their position EAs are often in the know about major corporate change. You know much of the why, what, how and when. What about others?
Well those poor souls are hearing rumours or being drip fed the strategy or are provided with a bombshell piece of news that means massive change is coming but clarity for staff is not available just yet. And even when management think they are providing certainty about the change, it is very difficult unless there are very high levels of trust in the leadership.
It is not that staff don’t like or even want change. Many will welcome it with an adventurous attitude. Others will fear it. Not change itself, but what it will mean for them. They fear the uncertainty.
Sitting in what might be best described as “the middle”, what can an EA do about the uncertainty of staff? You can be an advocate for them and remind leaders about their need to maintain and build trust.
An organisation’s leadership-staff relationship is complex and full of surprises, and leaving the change program unaddressed can leave staff to simmer and sometimes erupt. And the single most important aspect of leadership-staff relationships is trust.
As we all know, trust is built over time and can be snuffed out in a millisecond. Here are a few points to get you thinking about how you can help your leadership team manage leadership-staff relationships and build that cornerstone of trust.
We have all heard the phrase “perceptions are reality”. This phrase exists because we are often taken by surprise by how people view us or a certain situation. The leadership team will need to think about, seek out opinions on and test staff perceptions.
Suggest the leadership team meet to discuss what they perceive the key staff stakeholder groups think of the leadership group. The first sign of risk is if the team does not reach consensus on each stakeholder group’s perceptions.
While your leadership team may decide all is well, they would not be the first to be universally wrong about how they are perceived. Suggest they test these perceptions in staff forums.
Ask the leadership team to put themselves in the shoes of each staff stakeholder group. Ask them to think about what is important to them and how they would feel about their performance in reading the organisation for change.
Remind them staff may have little appreciation for how difficult the situation has been or is about to be. Some will only see or care about themselves.Then suggest they think through how staff may react to different options for the change program.
Remind them of the domino effect. If staff start to perceive them badly and start acting on those perceptions, how fast and far can this ill feeling spread? All the way to customers?
Risk is not all about doom and gloom. A change program is taking a risk to realise the upside of the change program. Remind leadership that improving their relationship with staff is a massive opportunity for ensuring the change program is successful.
Help your leadership team consider how to ensure staff and leadership have common, or at least closely aligned, goals. It’s the best way to ensure leadership and staff have a mutual desire for each other to succeed.
While the uncertainty of a thriller in the movie theatre is entertaining, the uncertainty of change for staff is unsettling. It must be dealt with. The secret is trust. The more staff trust the leadership team to act efficiently, fairly and transparently, the less staff will worry about the outcomes.
The more they will get on with their current job ,the more they will engage with the change program as it unfolds. As that happens, uncertainty dissipates rapidly for everyone.