Change Management: How to Deal with Company Change
Change is ubiquitous at any company, and we’ve all been through it.
Change can happen anywhere. I’ve worked in B2C, B2B, small start-ups, medium size companies, large corporate companies, and I’ve experienced large and small changes at every one of them — all within less than a year.
It can be rough when you’re suddenly tasked with different goals, a reorg, or potentially a new role definition, and you have no idea why, no clear sense about where you’re headed, and you may need to relearn everything. I’ve been through all of these and even implemented some of these changes myself. Not only can it be stressful when you’re going through it, but when everyone on your team is? There can be a strong sense of negativity that is hard to escape.
Types of company change:
-Expected Change: new hires, normal churn, promotions — yours and others, and new leadership/management
-Unexpected changes: Re-orgs, lay-offs/fires, new roles + redefined roles
-New Direction: new teams, ew market/company mission/North Star, new initiatives/technology
Now this is not an exhaustive list but highlights some of the most common changes experienced at companies, such as new hires, promotions, new management, and more extreme changes like a re-org, or a new company direction. All of these, even positive ones, can have an impact on our day-to-day and require an adjustment period.
Change can be scary!
So why is change so hard? We spend a lot of time at work — for most of us, probably the majority of our waking hours. Change is daunting, especially when our livelihood could be at stake.
You may have to navigate something unknown or new, while often still adhering to lofty performance metrics. It can also mean navigating difficult emotions — your own and others. Change can create negativity, a lack of trust, and cause many people to leave the team and the company, all leading to a more difficult work environment.
In one of my roles, we had a major role redefinition and new performance metrics that were implemented we suddenly had to meet. This drastically changed the day-to-day of the job, and for a few months, there was a lot of confusion as no one on the team knew how to meet the new goals. Many people were frustrated, complained, and ultimately left the company during this time, creating a working environment that became incredibly difficult for those who remained.
What can we do to manage change?
First — take time to breathe and reflect. Change — whether big or small — is inevitable and happens all the time. Acknowledging that it happens is a big part of the process.
Also, change can be good — whether it’s a new great team member, a promotion, or an exciting new company direction… At the same time, change can be daunting when the news isn’t as great.
Unfortunately I just experienced an office closure, which meant that I had to find a new job. I had never experienced a lay-off until that moment — in the past, I had always gone through a job search with the luxury of having a job for the foreseeable future. It was difficult to process, especially when the entire office was angry, frustrated and confused, but taking the time to breathe and reflect helped give me confidence that it would be alright.
When a company is making a change that negatively impacts your life, it’s important to take a step back and realize that: You are not your company, nor your job. You can find happiness and success independently of what you do.
Take a moment to focus on a setback — chances are you landed on your feet eventually. Perhaps that setback even became a tremendous opportunity later down the line and you wouldn’t be where you are today without it. This can be hard to see in the moment, but if we think long-term, change doesn’t have to be so intimidating, and can instead be thought of as opportunity.
Most importantly, during times of upheaval, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Find time to treat yourself — get a massage, see a great movie, do some yoga!
Second, focus on your Growth Mindset to cultivate an accepting attitude towards change.
Instead of focusing on results, perfection, and an end product, focus on the effort you’re making and don’t shy away from failure. Failure becomes a learning opportunity to grow and improve.
This contrasts with a fixed mindset which posits that where you are now is static and cannot be changed. Failure becomes a threat and a permanent state that reflects personally back on you.
A growth mindset means you can learn with dedication and effort, and while you may not be at your ideal state yet, you can get there. Changing our attitudes can help us reframe change as an opportunity for something new and minimize its stressful and potentially negative impact.
For example, when I first became a PM, the metrics that I was accountable for changed several times within my first few months, as the company was making a market pivot when I first joined. This meant that as I and my team navigated our adjusted roles and targets, we encountered many things that did not work. If we adhered to a fixed mindset, we would have stuck with things we already tried, instead of welcoming pivots and challenges. There will be highs and lows, and you won’t always be at 100%, nor will your team. However, we eventually reached success, because we knew we could get there if we kept trying new things to see what worked.
Third, create a plan and do your research.
If others are affected by this change and its implementation, talk to them and make sure you have all the information you need, whether a change is happening from the top down OR you’re the one affecting the change. Make sure you understand how this will affect you — what’s in it for me?/ WIIFM — but also how it will affect others, and be willing to help.
Then organize yourself and your team by creating outcomes for navigating this change.
For example, during the office closure, I had to understand how I was affected by asking questions like, when was my last day, where there any official transition plans, what was I accountable for, and where there any resources that I could look into to help find my next job?
Next, set a goal and create a vision and plan for the intended outcome. I created a plan to chart my next career move. Did I want to pivot out of education where I had been for the past five years to diversify my resume? What type of company and team was I looking to join? Big or small? An established company or one that was just getting started? I reached out to my networks, created a KanBan board to track where I was in the job search and what stages I was at with each company, so I could follow-up and track any patterns to ensure my success.
Fourth — COMMUNICATE
No matter what role you play in your company, you need to both voice and hear concerns.
If you are implementing change, always communicate the why and purpose of the change. Communicate your ideal state of where you’re headed and why it’s awesome. For example — who are your users? Try to understand how this change will impact them and your business positively. If you’re a leader, present this information and back it up with data. Also be sure to communicate change positively to each individual by thinking about why it’s to their advantage. Perhaps it gives someone the opportunity to learn something new.
If you think you’re communicating the right amount — double or triple it and be clear and concise. People have a lot going in, both in their professional lives and their personal lives. It can take time for your message, feedback, or ideas to sink in with so much going on. Solicit feedback by continually asking others for their opinion, meeting with team members, sending out surveys, and finding key influencers.
On key influencers — Every organization has key players who have earned the respect of their coworkers, have longevity perspective, and are influential. Getting key players on board and letting them act as a sounding board can help leaders better understand how change is being perceived and gain advocates for the change.
If you’re going through change, give feedback and be sure you completely understand. Leadership is often figuring it out right along with you, so give constructive feedback early and often. You probably have more influence over change than you might think, so talk openly about your concerns.
For example, when I was going through a role change at one of my companies, I was able to provide feedback to leadership that helped redefine some of the goals we were aiming for. I provided YoY data that made our goals and targets more accurately reflect what we were able to achieve, making the change less intense than it had been before. By giving information in a constructive way, I was able to influence our direction.
There are several tactics that can be helpful in communicating change.
- Kick-off meetings — by getting the company or team into one place and announcing change, you give people the opportunity to hear it from the source and a chance to ask questions.
- 1:1 meetings or office hours — these can possibly come before a big meeting — perhaps you want to practice your pitch, understand concerns, or recruit people to your side. Continue to have them after to understand how the change is affecting your coworkers.
- Documentation — whether this is an internal wiki or something else, creating a shared source of information that is clearly documented and visible to everyone can clear up any confusion and works as a continual reference point.
- Slack and synthesis emails — this helps address continual questions and confusion that the team may have and also further adds to the documentation. This way, you and the team have a record that can be referenced.
- Meetings like retros or surveys, followed by action items based on feedback — these are great ways to gauge the team and make any necessary pivots, based on what’s not working.
- Casual lunches or other outside the office activities — these can be with bosses, directs, and peers — this is a great way to maintain relationships and gain trust by getting to know your coworkers on a deeper level.
Now it’s time to get excited!
Sometimes forcing yourself to get excited can help. If the change is negative, you may have to fake it until you make it. Remember that being adaptable and optimistic is a good skill in any environment, even if it might take you some time to find the positive.
Leadership often relies on help and influencers when change occurs. By having a positive attitude, you might get to influence the change in the way you want, because you are optimistic and invested. If you’re in management, talking to your team can get people on your side, especially if you’re focusing on the positive impact a change could have on that individual.
It could also mean that you get the opportunity to grow and learn new skills and possibly get the chance to work with different people and teams, thereby increasing your knowledge, skill set, personal brand, and marketability both within your company and in the general workforce as well.
Thinking about changes, even seemingly negative ones, as opportunities can make you excited. Take this time to think long term and expand your horizons by asking yourself questions like -
- What new skills can you gain?
- What do you want to learn?
- Where do you want to go with your career?
- Can you leverage this change for a future promotion down the line or a career pivot?
Be upfront about your career goals and your passions, because change often creates gaps and holes that you can move into if you’re interested. People leave during change, and this could be an opportunity to take on new responsibilities and roles.
Change can make things confusing within the chaos and it can be hard to find meaning in your day-to-day, but work to find it, as it’ll give you something to grab onto when the going gets tough! Whether that’s focusing on people who you love to work with, the company’s mission, or something in your job that you enjoy doing or are really good at.
Be part of the change.
Ultimately, change is about people management and managing their emotions.Focus on people and your team. At the end of the day, change will be easier to accept and adapt to if you’re looking out for others and how they’re feeling.
If you’re not a leader, become one — help others when they’re struggling and recognize that people are your greatest assets. They matter and it can make or break how well and how quickly change gets implemented — you’re better off if your team is feeling positive. People often leave during times of upheaval, but if you’re focused on your people and team culture, the chances of retaining your best talent increase.
Change happens, and it’s exciting and cool! If you help cultivate that thinking, your team will be much less freaked out by pivots.
You can do this, for example by celebrating the little wins! — change is hard, but celebrating wins can boost moral. Celebrate when your team releases a feature, meets goals, or stays late one night to fix a bug. It’s important to also take note when things aren’t going well and brainstorm how you can turn them around. Does that mean taking a time out to discuss and pivot? Getting away from work for some time with a vacation? Doing an offsite for your team during a particularly frustrating time.
Another strategy is removing ambiguity — sometimes people don’t want to brainstorm after they’ve just made a major pivot and instead they need a leader who can provide guidance. It’s okay to occasionally tell your team what to do with specific deadlines, so you can give them structure.
Last — be honest with yourself and your goals — sometimes it’s okay to move on from your company or career and try something new.
Don’t stay in a place that has become toxic or makes you unhappy. At the end of the day, every company is a business. Make sure that you don’t burn your bridges, but know when you might need a change and be okay and upfront about it!
Any type of change, big or small, good or bad, can come with an adjustment period. Know that you and others will make mistakes, but the important part is to learn, forgive, move-on, and do better next time. It’s a small world in tech and maintaining relationships and your professional brand is incredibly important.