One thing that we can all count on that is constant is change.
Some changes can seem insignificant, and some can restructure the way a business operates entirely. In fact, your practice has more than likely already gone through some major change or are preparing for one in the near future. Changes can range from practice acquisitions, key team personnel changes, protocol or policy updates, new software, new technology, and the list goes on.
One hurdle that I see most practices come across, is that the leaders are not prepared with how to manage the people who are most impacted by the change. That is what we call a transition. And how effectively you manage the transition will directly impact your overall success with the change.
Leaders are expected to manage transition effectively, and having some knowledge and strategies of how to handle these can be a game changer.
A study done in 2016 by Robert Half Management Resources surveyed over 300 U.S. managers about the failures of executing change initiatives. They asked what was the most important thing when leading their company or team through a major change and 65% answered “communicating clearly and frequently.” In contrast, outlining goals was the answer of only 6%.
As coaches here at LOSC, we always try to emphasize the importance of communication via feedback. This is one of the things most people avoid. I call feedback the scary “F” word because of how often I hear clients avoid it all together either because they find it too difficult or feel they lack the time. However, communication is key when managing change.
The areas that suffer the greatest when communication is lacking during change or transitions include:
- employee moral decreases,
- production suffers,
- people do not feel secure in their positions so they might leave and turnover occurs (even though they do not realize that if they do that, they will inevitably go through a transition as well),
- increased stress which in some cases results in more attendance issues.
So what does a leader need to know in order to be equipped to effectively manage the transition?
First, it helps to understand the different phases your team will experience during the transitions so that you are able to recognize them as they happen.
Second, you need to have some strategies to utilize on how to effectively communicate during these phases to your team members.
As taken from Bridges’ Transition Model Published in Managing Transitions by William Bridges and Managing and Leading People through Organizational Change, we will explore each zone and some key strategies.
Phase One: The Ending Zone
Saying goodbye to the old and how people either individually or as a whole identify with the familiarity of it. People may experience denial, numbness, or resistance. The way each person copes might vary from each of these feelings.
It might feel like a very significant loss to someone, so it is important that the leader understands how many people are affected at varying degrees of uncertainty and resentment due to the “loss” of what is no longer.
Here is where team members will expend energy and focus but not get much done. The earlier you can communicate the change, the better.
I have walked several practices through ownership changes. One of them was a privately owned practice to becoming acquired by a very prominent corporation.
The initial response and reactions from the team members ranged from denial and numbness to resistance. Some of the employees that were there longer even had feelings of betrayal. These reactions varied from day to day, and week to week.
Recognize that this will be a time of loss and grieving for most. The key element that had the biggest positive impact was communication.
Strategies for responding to this phase:
- Explain the rational for the change and the benefits of it. If you are able, elaborate for each team member or department. There needs to be a venue to express concerns or gain support to bring about the closure. People need to know that you care about them as individuals.
- Be transparent. In detail, describe what will change, but also what will remain the same. Transparency is vital to cultivate trust.
- Describe and celebrate the success and values of the previous ways of working and identify how they will be enhanced by the change.
As long as we, the leaders, recognize this and not brush it under the rug hoping it will resolve on its own, we can effectively help our team move to the next phase, so they do not stay in the ending zone for too long.
Phase Two: The Neutral Zone, aka, the “Chaos Zone”
The competency levels of each person may vary depending on the individual as the old is gone and the new still does not feel natural.
This is where many will be somewhere between consciously incompetent (now I know what I didn’t and understand the value) and consciously competent (now I have some practice but still not at a level of teaching it to someone else, etc.).
During this phase, people may experience confusion, lots of new ideas, more stress, uncertainty, inconsistency, doubt or skepticism, or ambivalence. This is where leaders can really put on an encourager and coaching hat.
Strategies for responding to this phase:
- Encourage individuals and teams to identify how the change will enable them to use their strengths differently and what opportunities the change might bring about.
- Work with them to provide their own solutions and open conversations as issues of the transition arise. This encourages teamwork and purpose, so they feel vital to the practice. You can even take them outside of the office for a meal or a dessert. Something that does not feel formal and they can feel more connected.
- Ensure there is support and information available for individuals through communication networks, hire a coach or more formally your HR.
Phase Three: New Beginnings
Hopefully, you managed the transition period well, and therefore the grieving is now passing or gone. This is my favorite phase of the model.
Here is where you and your team begin to identify yourselves, your culture, with the new system, ownership change, structures, procedures, or processes.
The uncertainty is gone and things seem to be more clear. Commitment becomes high again and you can begin to see the light again as things start to feel “normal” again.
People’s sense of competence is greater, they are able to easily identify the practice’s values to what is happening and how they are personally connected to them, and more cooperation and enthusiasm is ensuing.
When leaders and team members are able to get to this stage, focus on the quality of the patient experience is heightened and a new sense of commitment is felt.
Strategies for responding to this phase:
- Continue to talk with your team and individuals about how they are feeling about the change.
- Acknowledge team members that have contributed to the changes – publicly. This cultivates trust and gives an example for others to follow.
- Give individuals a part to play in sustaining the change and ensuring that it becomes the way of working or operating. People need to feel as though they are a part of it so here is where some leaders who have a hard time with delegating may need to practice letting go.
Ultimately, the leaders ability to communicate effectively will be the leading success factor in managing transition.
Approach other natural leaders in your practice – these are the people that others tend to follow or listen to – and get their buy-in early in the process. This will provide more support for you during the process.
Expect people’s performance to drop during the process and give grace to those that are not at their highest and best. Eventually, they will reach the other side and so will you!
At Line of Sight Coaching, we have created a quick ten-question self-assessment Leadership Quiz. Take this opportunity to gauge your leadership effectiveness and get an answer to the question, “Have you ever wondered about your ability to lead?” Take our Free Leadership Quiz.
Dr. Joel Small and Dr. Edwin McDonald, the founders of Line of Sight Coaching, are dental practitioners, authors, speakers and Business Leadership Coaches who work with healthcare professionals to help them build more successful practices so they can live the balanced life they seek.