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Leading Change

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

I think I've delivered this webinar on change to so many people now, that I thought I would convert it into a blog post for others to share. The material from this webinar has been delivered to leaders from a range of global organisations through my work with Mezzana Parters, legal firms, the Institute of Directors, Association for Coaching and even an olympic team following the news of the delay to the 2020 games in Tokyo. It offers some practical tips for leading others emotionally through Covid.

Kubler Ross Change Curve

Following an extensive study of grief, Swiss American psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published her work on the change curve. The work was formative and has been applied more widely to all sorts of change over the last 60 years.

I noticed amongst my coaching clients, that everyone was quick to develop their operational plans for dealing with Covid19, but the challenges went far beyond the practicalities. This pandemic has conjured up a very human response and without a clear psychological plan, it can be difficult to successfully implement the operational plans. So, I set about developing some handy tips to help leaders to think about what they can do to be there for their teams.

The Psychological Plan

If you're in a rush, then just know, your psychological plan for supporting staff needs to have four core elements which you can deploy to help people navigate this period of significant change. Having a package of measures that can be delivered to your team will help them to feel connected and capable in the work place.

Kubler Ross Change Curve with four deliverables for your psychological plan

Support: Going through this emotional rollercoaster in response to change is natural human response and as such each of us benefit from compassion. This could be through an Employee Assistance Programme, or by a manager offering a listening ear.

Inform: People need to have clear messaging about what this change means for them and the organisation. It's all about good communication.

Direct: When things change significantly, people need clear direction on what to do. Are the boundaries clear, are new processes in place and have people had the right training to carry out their new responsibilities?

Involve: Getting back to business as usual, giving people the chance to get back into more collaborative decision making now the crisis or change has passed.

Let's get specific

Each of these phases of the Kübler-Ross curve needs something different from us as leaders; but how do we know where the team is on the curve and what should our response be? Firstly, it's important to acknowledge that everyone responds differently to change and that processing change is not linear. People may loop round the change curve as more waves of change ripple through, not experience specific phases at all or have virtually no response to change at all. We need to be agile in our response to individuals, but aware of where the centre of gravity is for our team so that we can be doing the right thing for them collectively in that moment.


What to look out for:

  • Rabbit in headlights

  • Non-Responsive

  • Numbness

  • People putting up temporary defences to give them time to process information

  • Going AWOL

  • Frenetic working

What might be appropriate action to take?

  • Clear, simple messaging

  • Time and space to process

  • Comfort

  • Acknowledgement that their response is normal

If you're a coach or leader, be really comfortable with silence in this moment. Give people the space to process information.


What to look out for:

  • Statements of disbelief

  • Looking for evidence that it isn’t true

  • Focus on the past

  • Losing touch with reality

What might be appropriate action to take?

  • Clear, simple messaging – written down slowly and gradually to avoid overwhelm

  • Help people understand what is going on and answer questions

  • Sensitively dispel emergent myths, misinformation or falsehoods

  • Be firm with information and realities, but make a note of how people are responding to the information shared

If you're a coach or leader, ask 'What are you noticing right now?'. How are your team responding? How are you responding? Has everything landed in the way you intended it to?


What to look out for:

  • Anger

  • Resistance/obstruction

  • Resentment

  • Abdication of responsibilities

  • Working to rule

  • Insubordination

What might be appropriate action to take?

  • Listen to people’s anger and frustration – Acknowledge that this is natural

  • Once confident people understand changes necessary, move to comfort, change is difficult

  • Identify disruptive influencers and re-double your information and support

  • Highlight the things that won’t be changing whilst keeping a focus on what needs to change

As a coach or leader, ask 'What emotional contribution can you make to the team?' Emotions are contagious and we need to role model the most constructive emotional response - even though it's hard for us too!


What to look out for:

  • Sadness

  • Fear

  • Regret

  • Wide ranging negative emotions

  • Low energy

  • Low productivity

  • Difficulty maintaining a routine

What might be appropriate action to take?

  • Offer support and understanding

  • Introduce hope and medium term plans

  • Connect people with the bigger picture

  • Offer small, manageable projects with quick wins

As a coach or leader, ask, 'What is meaningful to your team right now?' Depression feels an incredibly loaded word and in this context, it is not meant to imply clinical depression, but a sense of weariness and exhaustion. It is the lowest ebb of the change curve, but it is characterised by people focussing inwards, reflecting and mourning the loss of the world that was, whilst beginning to accept the world as it will be.


What to look out for:

  • Adaptation

  • Bargaining

  • Positive questioning

  • Alignment

  • Sense of connectedness

  • Growing Autonomy

What might be appropriate action to take?

  • Offer people clear processes and procedures to give people structure

  • Capacity build through training and guidance

  • Allow people to try different ways to address challenges whilst offering clear direction of travel

  • Give people the chance to feedback on gremlins in the system

  • Celebrate small wins

As a coach or leader, this is the time to ask 'How easy is it for the team to help?' Team members are emerging from the fog of the depression phase and they need to have a clear sense of next steps.


What to look out for:

  • Positivity

  • Higher levels of initiative

  • Increased productivity

  • Comprehensive understanding of new world and changes

  • Habituating new processes

  • Increased creativity

What might be appropriate action to take?

  • Offer options for things which still need to be finessed

  • Bring together small working groups to establish new practices on the foundation of the change programme

  • Celebrate more significant wins

As a coach or leader, this is the time to ask 'What can you start to let go of?' During a crisis, the need to steer the ship with clarity will often mean a more directive style, but as we move into the decision phase, you'll burn out if you keep holding on to everything. Don't let the temporary necessity become a longer term trend, start to delegate again to get things back to normal.


What to look out for:

  • Change has been embedded

What might be appropriate action to take?

  • Take stock of learning

  • Recognise which colleagues may need more support with future changes

  • Look after yourself

  • Start thinking about what next!

As a coach or leader, this is the time to ask 'What have you taken from this?' Challenge of this magnitude offers a huge opportunity for learning and taking the time at the end of this experience to recharge your batteries and to think about the positives that have emerged will help you to keep a growth mindset.

I hope this might offer some a small contribution to what is an incredibly challenging time.

If you've never had leadership coaching before, I really can't think of a better time. Building in time to reflect on the balance between the business needs and your personal needs is what helps you to focus on what is important rather than urgent. It also gives you space for you to just be you without having to think about what the impact on other people might be. I offer a FREE 30 minute chemistry session to all new clients to help them to get a sense of what coaching with me might be like. If you'd like to book something in, get in touch!

Finally, if you're keen to see a recording of one of the webinars, let me know and I can send you over a link.

Thanks for reading :)

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