Nine steps to usher in a new normal.
People need certainty.
Even those who “thrive in uncertainty” have it.
The entrepreneur who can “roll with the punches” and “build something from scratch” has a secret sense of certainty. She knows that her process will guide her to desired results. She has tools to gain clarity (such as user growth experiments and agile development) or mental models to identify priorities and execute.
People without conviction in any process, plan, or faith in the future will eventually suffer from immense stress.
Organizations explode into the chaotic unknown after massive changes: layoffs, org restructuring, etc. Their ground is shattered.
Leaders need to give their team certainty.
Here are 9 ways to give your team grounding amid change. They will empower you to create a sense of stability, clarify ambiguities across the company, and build a foundation for transparent and continual change.
1. Normalize Emotions
Help your teammates foreshadow the emotional flux they are likely to feel. Somehow, knowing that the emotional rollercoaster is normal makes it more manageable. I like to share the bridges model to communicate some expectations:
That said, there is more you can do to support individuals.
In each division, keep track of each teammate’s responses to the notice of change. Note who likely needs new touch points or additional support. Then provide it.
3. Clarity Loops
Have each subteam meet immediately after a big change. Have them each answer these questions:
- What are your biggest unanswered questions?
- What are your biggest requests from other teams?
- What skills or knowledge will your team need to acquire to shift into your team’s new niche?
Have the leads on each team procure answers and exchange knowledge. This creates a system by which all teams can rapidly reach clarity.
4. Slow leaks
This strategy helps teammates acculturate to an impending big (likely stressful) change. Let’s say you know a big org change is coming in three months. You have the power to slowly make the transition smoother. How? Introduce the topic in phases so people can slowly wrap their head around change and adjust before it occurs. For example, at Make School we had to radically change our coaching program.
- Week 1: mention that topic in all hands [“we need to evolve our coaching program as we scale”]
- Week 2: share template of analyzing topic [“we need to come with something that has the best time to impact ROI”]
- Week 3: mention you are in deliberation on figuring out the best solution
This slow drip allows people to acculturate the change. No surprises.
5. Get a target fast
People need a target to feel grounded. Leadership should spin up new OKRs, Division goals, or even just encourage ICs to create individual goals as soon as possible.
Goals can also focus the team to reach clarity:
- Do 3 experiments in the next week to determine a new business model
- Learn x skill so I’ll be more indispensable to the organization
- Do 10 user interviews to understand their changing needs
What matters is that people don’t feel their efforts end up being useless if the exec team releases a new strategy counter to their prior work. So get the right goals right.
6. Communicate in Probabilities
In 2014, Elon Musk was interviewed by Sam Altman on the founding of Tesla. Sam asked Elon how he found strength to make such big decisions in the face of fear.
“In starting SpaceX, I thought the odds of success were less than 10%… I just accepted that I would just lose everything, but that we would make some progress. If we could just move the ball forward, even if we [the company] died, maybe some other company could pick up the baton and keep moving forward. So, we are still doing some good.”
“Just accept the probabilities and that diminishes fear” — Elon Musk
Knowing the probability of scenarios gives more certainty in uncertainty.
Share data if useful. Omit data on changes that are half baked (and you don’t want their input) and don’t impact their work.
8. Creating Change
As you lead, remind people of the value of initiatives and be proactive in building excitement and engaging stakeholders. The “vibes” you create during organizational change can be contagious.
9. Deep Breath
You’ll get through it.