We’ve always done it this way.
These are the six most dangerous words uttered within an organization. Yet, they still manage to roll off the tongue of many employees.
Why? Because change can be brutal. There’s comfort in predictability. Many of us prefer sticking with what we know rather than trying to learn and master an entirely new way of doing things.
There’s plenty of advice out there on how managers like you can get employees on board with process changes. But what about when you’re the one struggling to cope with those shifts?
First, take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone. Managers actually feel more anxious about process changes than their employees do, according to our recent research.
It’s hard to be the fearless leader navigating your team through those changes if you’re the one biting your nails.
If you find yourself huffing and puffing into a paper bag every time you need to switch up a process, this advice is for you. Let’s dive into why you feel hesitant about those changes—and how you can overcome those nerves.
Change is Often Good, So Why Do You Still Fear it?
Change is a normal and healthy part of business growth. If it weren’t, Jeff Bezos would still be selling books out of his garage. But, as natural as change might be, resistance to it is just as normal—for a variety of reasons.
It’s easy to believe that we all turn our noses up at change because it requires us to master something new. However, that might not be the case. We may actually push back against change because it forces us to let go of something familiar.
We have an unconscious bias for things that have been around longer, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In our brains, longevity carries a lot of weight.
There are also plenty of other scary elements that come along with change besides our clinging to the status quo.
A perceived lack of autonomy, increased uncertainty, and our concerns about our own adaptability make us fearful of implementing something new, writes Rosabeth Moss Kanter, director of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, in her article for Harvard Business Review.
4 Key Tips to Cope With Your Change-Related Stress
Your stomach doing backflips at the first sight of a process change is understandable and a normal human reaction. But that resistance isn’t conducive or productive. Now that we understand the possible sources of your anxiety, let’s dive into how you can learn to better cope with it. These four steps will get you over your dread so you can inspire your team to enthusiastically accept the changes.
1. Recognize That Change is Inevitable
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Change is normal. That means it’s also inevitable. Recognizing that your processes are living and breathing is the first step to move past your change-related anxiety. They’re meant to be constantly tweaked and optimized.
Stop holding onto the notion that there’s only one way to achieve something. Once you do, you’ll have the wiggle room to explore new methods and shift your attention to what matters most—the end goal.
People who do this can “make adjustments, adapt and keep taking action, because all they care about is the thing that actually matters, which is getting what they set out for,” writes Kris Gage, a software manager and writer, in her article on Medium.
“‘Planners,’ on the other hand, often get so tangled up in ‘adhering to the plan’ that they lose focus on the thing that actually matters — or confuse it with ‘the plan,’ honestly thinking that moving through their checklist is the most important thing, and ‘success’ is following it exactly.”
So, let’s all take a deep breath and recognize that—no matter our amount of planning and strategy—we’ll never be able to build a process that works perfectly forever.
Processes are made to be tailored and refined over time. The sooner you can accept that fact, the less stress you’ll feel when it comes time to make a change.
2. Get Closer to Your Frontline
You have a lot of minutiae on your plate every single day. You’re solving team conflicts, overseeing larger strategies, generating important reports… so on and so forth.
That means you’re doing your job. It also means you probably have some distance between yourself and your employees—which makes process changes feel like a total shot in the dark. You have little-to-no visibility into the day-to-day activities of your team, which increases your nervousness about how the process change implementation will actually impact them.
This is why it’s a good idea to put yourself “in the trenches” a little more and get a better grasp on the current process. Doing so will make it clear why a change is necessary and what improvements will address those existing roadblocks.
How can you gather this much-needed insight without slowing things down for your team? Here are a few ideas:
- Set up some regular “job shadows” for yourself. For example, if you lead a marketing group, maybe one day you’ll spend a few hours working closely with the copywriting team and do the same with the graphic designers the next. It might seem counterintuitive to tag along with your subordinates, but doing so can actually be incredibly revealing.
- Have honest conversations. When given the opportunity, your direct reports likely won’t be shy about sharing what’s working and what isn’t. If something isn’t clear, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. That doesn’t make you look out of touch. In fact, your team will appreciate your interest and investment.
- Use a work management system. If you aren’t already relying on a shared project management system or database for your work, you should be (may we be so bold as to recommend Wrike?). This will give you and everyone else on your team a single source of truth on what’s happening, and empower you to drill down to specifics when necessary.
Put simply, the closer you are to a process, the better you’ll understand where the problems are and how changes can help solve them. So, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. This increased understanding could be the difference between feeling nervous and being enthusiastic.
3. Set Up Success Metrics
While change can be scary, there’s one thing that’s reassuring—progress. However, measuring progress is impossible if you don’t have any idea what success actually looks like.
Before you institute a process change, define a clear and measurable goal for that change. Doing so gives you focus, further defines why this change is necessary, and also gives you a metric to determine your success.
Let’s look at an example for some clarity. Your customer success team has told you the current method for responding to customer requests isn’t working, resulting in painfully slow response times. A change is needed to make things smoother for your team and more efficient for your customers.
Here’s the main objective for your process change: Improve response time to customer requests.
To make the goal even more impactful, assign something measurable to it. If you look at your existing average response time and see that it’s somewhere around four days, set a goal of decreasing that to two working days.
Your revised, more measurable goal would look something like: Decrease response time to customers from four working days to two working days.
See how that could help you continually evaluate how the change is working? After a month of introducing a process change, check in on how things are progressing. Even if your response time has been reduced to three days, that’s still improvement. You’ll know you’re on the right track and can continue refining from there.
Don’t neglect the importance of defining what success looks like for your process change. Having that objective is reaffirming when your nerves start to get the best of you, and also helps you confirm that the change is actually productive.
4. Form a Back-Up Plan
If a measurable goal isn’t quite enough reassurance for you, there’s one more thing that will help you approach changes with confidence: a back-up plan.
Not all changes work out, and—while you don’t want to head into them with a sour attitude—there’s nothing wrong with thinking through those “what ifs” and evaluating what you’ll do if things don’t pan out well. It can be comforting to know that you have a safety net in place if that change falls apart.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your fallback option needs to be elaborate. It could be something as simple as informing your team that you’ll revisit the change in a month to see how it’s working and if it needs refinement. Your back-up plan can even be reverting to the old ways if the process changes goes up in flames.
Knowing the change doesn’t have to be permanent and you have the wiggle room to adjust—or even scrap the whole thing altogether—will give you the boost of confidence you need.
When you view change as something you test out—rather than something that needs to permanently alter your work life—it suddenly becomes a lot less terrifying to cope with.
Ch-Ch-Changes: Moving Forward Stress-Free
Much like everything else, you can’t always control what happens. But, fortunately, you can control how you react to it.
Remember, it’s perfectly normal to feel nervous about change. Just don’t let anxiety paralyze you. To succeed and evolve, you can’t be content to stick with what you’ve always done.
To help overcome your anxiety about changing processes on your team, use these tips to make key changes that improve your team’s operations and performance.
Learn more about why you may be resistant to change and the steps you can take to overcome your anxiety when you download our free eBook, Accelerating Change Management: Getting 7 Personalities on Board.