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How Managers Can Create Stability in Unpredictable Times

This article was based on episode 193 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get 30% off Russ’s book Loss and Discovery: What the Torah Can Teach Us about Leading Change when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.

The world has always been unpredictable. Recent events, including a global pandemic, climate upheavals, and dysfunctional politics, are putting us all on edge. Obviously, there’s little most managers can do to change the reality of global crises. Yet, there is a lot within our control. We are able to create more stability at work during times of chaos by better understanding how the brain works.

Russ Linden is a management consultant, author, and leadership instructor who specializes in change management. He teaches us here how to use our brain’s tendencies towards loss aversion, need for control, and neuroplasticity to our advantage.

CREATING CERTAINTY AND PREDICTABILITY

For survival, we’re wired to constantly scan our environments for threats. At one time those threats were wild animals or torrential storms. Feelings of uncertainty and unpredictability are frightening to our brains because they signal that danger may be lurking just around the corner. The result is a desire to know and feel in control. In the workplace, these same instincts are at play.

To help counteract feelings of unease, invest in building trusting relationships. Russ explains that managers can be a predictable presence for their team members by consistently being honest, transparent, and trustworthy.

Additionally, employees want to walk into work and know how things operate. Managers can further create a sense of stability by making the team’s core values and expectations explicit. For example, 3M’s value of “never ditch a new idea” sets a standard for how the company collaborates and experiments. You can even build in stability within a fast-changing environment by creating a plan and intentionally reassessing every two weeks. This intentional revisiting will give your team a structure that adds predictability, certainty, and control into what might otherwise seem chaotic.

RECOGNIZE THE POWER OF LOSS

People don’t resist change, they resist loss. The pain of loss is so strong that it can keep us from taking risks or embracing directions that would otherwise benefit us. This is because even positive changes will involve some loss. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to predict what those losses may be.

Whether it’s a new strategy or changing of roles, when things change at work, employees worry about what they will lose. These feelings may not even be conscious. For example, will the new team member be given opportunities that would have come my way? Will the shift in our strategy mean I don’t get to work as closely with clients?

Managing expectations is the most important thing a manager can do when presenting a change. Acknowledge to your team that change is hard. Be honest about both the positive and negative things that may occur.

One of Russ’s clients held a symbolic wake after a major change was announced. This was an opportunity for people to openly mourn what they were going to miss. In American culture there is often a pressure to just “get over it”. But sometimes we need to face things in order to move past them. Give space to your team members to process the change. Make sure to honor the past, let people know they aren't to blame for the changes, and remind them of all the good that they achieved.

EMBRACE NEUROPLASTICITY

We used to think the brain finished developing in adolescence and then went downhill. The good news for any manager old enough to vote is that while we do lose brain cells as we age, we now know that the brain creates new cells and neural pathways far into adulthood. Our brains love growing, and we can leverage this in how we support our team through change.

  1. Instead of focusing on all everything that will be different, remind your team what’s not changing.

  2. Break the changes down into smaller parts to ease slowly into it.

  3. Give people choices with the impending changes so they feel a greater sense of control.

  4. Include people in designing the change. (We place more value on things that we make ourselves.)

  5. Encourage people to support each other during stressful times of change. (Peer support can be even more effective than managerial support.)

Change is inevitable. And change, even a good one, is always hard. At times like these when employees are already overcome by the uncertainty of the world, managers can create spaces of stability for harried teams. Model and build stable relationships within the team so that people know they can rely on you and one another. Focus on being a trustworthy and predictable leader, grounded in core values. Admit that with change comes loss, and help your team prepare themselves for the difficulty of that loss. And leverage brain science and our brain’s ability to learn and adapt in order to support your team through tough changes. While change can feel overwhelming for us all, it only takes some thoughtful planning and consistent action to make any change more manageable.

KEEP UP WITH RUSS


Get 30% off Russ’s book Loss and Discovery: What the Torah Can Teach Us about Leading Change when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.

This article was based onepisode 193 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify,iHeart Radio,Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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