How does your team react when you announce a new change? They’re not likely to jump for joy. In fact, you’ll probably hear silence at first. That’s because our innate reaction to change is fear—it’s part of the fight-or-flight response.

Change is hard, especially when you’re managing a team. It’s also inevitable. As a manager, it’s your job to smoothly implement changes. But how do you make that work when your team has different work styles and personalities? And how do you ensure the changes don’t impede your work?

Here are 3 organizational change management strategies to keep your team from running away in fear.

Follow Change Models

Luckily for modern-day managers, there’s an entire field dedicated to organizational development! Academics have spent years developing models for change management, and there’s research to back them up.

There are many common models of organizational development (OD) and change management. These models are a template to set up change management, and you can customize the plans according to your needs. Here are some to start your research:

  1. Lewin’s Change Management Model
  2. The McKinsey 7-S Model
  3. Kotter’s 8-Step Change Management Theory

Lewin’s Change Management Model

Kurt Lewin’s Change Management Model is also known as the unfreeze-change-refreeze model, where systems are analyzed, changed, and then cemented.

Think of your change process as a block of ice. The first thing you need to do in order to change the block of ice is to unfreeze it. In this stage, you’re allowing the change to happen by “melting” out of the existing state. This may mean gathering your team together and explaining the upcoming change and communicating why it’s necessary. This will get your team out of the frozen state it’s currently in so they can focus on the transition.

giphy - 2021-09-16T105141.548

Then, it’s time to implement the change. You’re moving the melting ice block to another ice tray, so to speak. Give your team the guidance and tools they need to start building the change process and continue to communicate openly with them as everything is put into place. Here is your chance to address any roadblocks, both physical and emotional, and to help your team achieve their goals. 

Once the transition is successful, you can then refreeze the ice block—that is, solidify the change. Teamwide postmortems and feedback are critical here to ensure that everyone has the tools and support needed to keep the change going. Keep this change solid by delivering positive reinforcement, reiterating training, and making adjustments where necessary.

This model is best for small-scale changes, like new accounting software or a move to an open-office or work-from-home format, where feedback and buy-in from your team are necessary for success.

The McKinsey 7-S Model

This model breaks change down into seven categories: strategy, structure, systems, shared values, style of work, staff, and skills. Say that ten times fast.

When taking a full-systems approach to change, the 7-S model accounts for all the ways it will change your team dynamic. Taking a look at all these S’s, you’ll notice that the first three—strategy, structure, and systems—are much easier to identify within your organization than others. These are known as the “Hard S’s” of the model; they account for measurable factors like business goals, workflow and management tools, hierarchy, and more. The “Soft S’s”—shared values, style of work, staff, and skills—are more individual and adaptable.

Once you’ve identified all seven categories within this model, you must evaluate how they impact each other. Can you change the strategy of your business without compromising its shared values? If you change the systems and software you work, what employee skills are you overlooking or undervaluing? This approach will help you see the bigger picture and understand how change ripples through your organization.

The McKinsey 7-S Model best suits major structural change, like a new hierarchy model or a merger. It requires little team feedback and focuses instead on organizational well-being.

Kotter’s Change Management Theory

John Kotter’s model sorts change into eight steps: create a sense of urgency, build a guiding coalition, form a strategic vision, enlist volunteers, remove barriers, generate short-term wins, sustain acceleration, and institute change.

This waterfall method of guiding your team step-by-step through change is an excellent hands-on way to encourage buy-in and reduce resistance. By giving a broad view of the change at hand and building a coalition of teammates to help design new processes, you’re providing a level of transparency to your team that helps rid the fear that typically comes with change. Allowing your team to participate also gives you extra insight into obstacles that only certain individuals or small groups face. This way, you’re able to implement more comprehensive change that takes everyone into account—not just the major stakeholders.

Kotter’s eight steps are ideal for a team that needs to adjust its strategy and re-approach problem-solving in a new way. This could be most effective for an organization that is digitizing its records, changing its sales approach, or adding a new product or service to its offerings.

Which system seems best for your team? As you begin your change management plan, analyze what your team needs most. Will restructuring your team help more, or will you benefit from taking a systems analysis approach?

Remember that these models are just a starting point. You know what works best for your team, and a large change will always require more custom plans.

Know Your People

No one else in your company knows your team better than you do. Managers who work side-by-side with their teammates get to understand their team’s working styles, personalities, quirks, and pet peeves. And you’ll know right away who’s affected by the change.

Remember: change triggers flight-or-fight. So you should expect resistance at first, and you can embrace it. Maybe Susan isn’t being stubborn about losing her Zendesk integration as you change to a new software; her customer service processes rely on Zendesk to keep everyone informed of the latest inquiries and urgent requests. Listen to your teammates and give them the chance to communicate and complain throughout the process.

Find a feedback loop that works for everyone. Do you already have weekly team meetings? Set up a slot on that meeting agenda to tackle problems as a group. Kotter’s change theory suggests building a coalition to plan change. This is a great way to flatten the hierarchy during the change process. Not everything has to be handed top-down all the time. Working with your team to identify pain points and solutions can help streamline the change process. You may even find solutions you didn’t even know you need!

Make A Plan

As your team begins to identify necessary changes, you can build a plan together. First, start with a process to recognize what changes your team needs. How will you approve those changes? Who will implement, monitor, and measure those changes in progress? Set specific goals together, like cutting customer service response time by 30%

Then, train your people. A new process goes nowhere if your teammates don’t know how to navigate it. If there’s a new software, lead a training with a software expert who can walk everyone through best practices and tips. If the new change requires consistent supervision, identify the individuals on your team who can manage that and walk them through it. Don’t assume your team can handle it on their own—you risk throwing them unknowingly to the wolves and losing some of your best people. Be a patient and guiding manager as they face something entirely new for the first time.

Check In Regularly

As you’re implementing your new process, your teammates are bound to run into obstacles and questions. These are things you want to hear! Set up some systems to capture feedback along the way. Pulse surveys are an effective way to gather quick feedback from your team in a 1-2 question format. 

Don’t just rely on feedback from people, though—head to the new system itself. Measuring success along the way is how you know to make adjustments, pause the process, or leave it as is.

Once you’ve made it through the change, you have the ultimate opportunity to gather feedback. Plan a post-mortem where everyone can make assessments and suggestions. This is likely the point where people will be most upfront about their struggles and complaints. And the best thing you can do here is to allow space for those complaints to ensure you’re getting the whole story. This will make it easier to plan change in the future.

Plan Ahead

Change is an ongoing process. One established change management process isn’t always going to be your go-to. But you can take the lessons you’ve learned along the way and apply them to future changes. And feel free to experiment with different change models along the way! There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Remember: everything changes.

3 organizational change management strategies that make growth easy