New horizons: How to manage your team through times of change and uncertainty

Change managementRetailers are being bought by e-commerce giants. Mobile devices have displaced the need for cash or cards. Cars no longer need drivers. The cloud has replaced the filing cabinet.

Clearly, the traditional norms for business communications, processes, procedures, work arrangements and even business models are in a state of flux and disruption.

Regardless of the industry your company serves or the function your team serves to the company, it’s nearly inevitable that you and your team will deal with a change in business strategy, roles or responsibilities at some point.

Even if the change ultimately means positive growth opportunities, managers must proactively acknowledge the concerns employees will instinctively have and address how it relates to their personal and professional lives, in order to keep teams intact during the transition.

Here are some ways all managers can help their teams remain focused on the bigger picture in times of change and uncertainty.

Difficult People D

Become a marketer of change

Change management expert, author and Harvard University professor Dr. John Kotter developed an eight-step model outlining the critical success factors to leading in times of change, based on his research.

The first step in his model? Create a sense of urgency. Most people resist change, even when it ultimately presents new and better opportunities; assume that your employees will naturally shy away from a shift from the familiar.

As Kotter’s model recommends, managers must essentially act as marketers for change. Your first priority is to convince employees that the change is unavoidable, time sensitive and necessary. Sell them on this concept first, and you’re more likely to instill the belief that change is an opportunity they should want to leverage—not something to fear.

Ask the right questions

Before you launch into a motivational speech about how your team will thrive in times of change and ambiguity, you must have a sense for what most concerns them about it.

Invite employees to share their questions about the change, including the personal and professional concerns they have related to it. Some employees may fear job loss, while others may be concerned with a change in the company culture or altered workplace benefits. Consider giving employees the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback (which may mean a return to hard copy comment forms or handwritten surveys).

Despite reassurances that electronic feedback will not be attributed to respondents, you’ll gather more authentic, candid and robust feedback when employees know there is no chance their responses can be linked back to them.


Managers can alleviate many employee concerns during times of change by sharing so much information that staff don’t have the opportunity to whisper around water coolers or speculate about what could happen next.

Regardless of how unimportant some pieces of information related to change in your company may seem, employees want to know what to expect. Assuming the information isn’t confidential, employees will appreciate overcommunication far more than a tight-lipped environment that leaves them left to imagine and worry about worst-case scenarios.

Guide the team forward

The past is comfortable and familiar; the future is uncertain. Managing employees through change requires that managers keep the collective team vision on embracing new ways of operating, while simultaneously releasing their grip on the past. Set the tone for how employees perceive the change by focusing on the positive aspects it represents, rather than the stress that accompanies it. You may not have ultimate control or influence over decisions made at the top of the organization, but you do have the power to help your employees feel safe, secure and protected during times of transition.

Tell employees how changes at even the highest levels of the company relate to their roles and responsibilities, so they feel empowered and accountable in the fact that their contributions are important in making the company’s new vision a reality.

Employees want to know that you are capable of directing them through the uncertainty; your confidence in the change is pivotal to their own belief in it.