The always changing parrotfish.

The always changing parrotfish. Image via Cigdem Sean Cooper/

4 Ways to Help Your Team Deal with Change

Employees won't tell you if they're struggling with change, you have to reach out. Here's how.

It’s Round? NO. It’s Square? NO. It’s Green? NO. It’s Purple? The wily parrotfish is like an actor playing multiple parts in a single play…constantly changing shape, color, even gender throughout life. This revolving door of identities has long stumped scientists.

As confounding as this creature is, wouldn’t it be great if employees were like parrotfish? When an organizational change was announced, people would begin changing color, shape and size in accordance with their needs. Those who need education and training? Suddenly a brilliant blue. Those who need additional support from the leadership team? Now a deep hue of red. Those who just need to be informed but not burdened with too much detail? Those folks are now orange. If only that psychedelic fantasy were real…it’d make being a manager a heck of a lot easier (and more visually stimulating!).

Unfortunately, employees don’t change colors or physical attributes in response to upcoming reorganization (though some may get red in the face). In lieu of that, how do you, as a change agent, understand the unique needs of your individual employees so that your change strategy is successful?

  • Recognize Needs: Start by identifying the objects employees “lean on” for support to complete daily work tasks. Those objects may include a boss, a computer, a piece of equipment, a software program, an office space, a process, procedure, or tradition—it could even be the time and place of their coffee break. Whatever it is, when these objects are threatened (or eliminated), it disrupts a person's ability to successfully complete daily tasks. Recognize these needs, acknowledge their importance and help people find new norms to embrace.
  • Offer Support: Above all else, you need to validate the change by offering support during the transition. All change implementation strategies should include the identification of unique ways to support employees as they make a transition to new ways of doing things. Be clear that your door is really, truly open. Resistance to change stems from fear of it. Address fears by initiating an open dialogue.
  • Stop Avoiding: Avoidance is a strategy employed by those facing change and those implementing it. Employees avoid news about it and managers avoid talking open and honestly about it. If you’re struggling to look your people in the eye, snap out of it. Get out in front of these behaviors. Schedule a one-on-one interview with employees that focuses on understanding how the change impacts them. Give them tools to think critically (propose they do both a SWOT and risk analysis) and ask them questions to help orient their thinking (e.g. “What can you do about this situation?” or “What skills of yours will help support the change?”)
  • Empower Employees: Invite input and feedback as changes take place. Establish a small task force of different employees to think through recommendations that will help an organizational change take root. Identify those who are “change agents”—active supporters of the new initiative—and elevate them as positive examples. Cut those who aren’t team players off at the knees by making it clear that resistance is ineffective and that supporting change helps everyone—including them.  

You might say you can’t afford to do this because of the time required, but I say, how can you afford not to? We don’t display our response to change with colors or shapes. It’s important that effective leaders reach out to help employees navigate the changes taking place around them. If you don’t, you’ve chosen to walk a path that breeds cultural toxicity and wasteful resistance. The choice, as always, is yours.   

Image via Cigdem Sean Cooper/