Evolve and Thrive: Brexit – the role of leadership in keeping people productive during change

In the next of our ongoing series of insights derived from our recent roundtable event, Evolve and Thrive: Brexit, we’re taking a look at what leaders can do to keep change initiatives on track by keeping people productive.

At Evolve and Thrive, we heard from experts from ABF and from TUI, who gave us some fascinating insights into Brexit planning and managing large change initiatives. My colleague Elaine Stephens also presented on the psychology of change, which provided some fascinating insight into why people respond to change the way they do – and what you can do about it in your organisation.

It’s that piece that I want to talk about in this blog. Elaine’s talk stressed the risks of creating uncertainty; when faced with uncertainty, people tend to focus on negative possibilities and outcomes, which can lead to them feeling threatened and demoralised.

We’ve discussed in a previous blog some strategies that organisations may find effective in keeping their people feeling ‘safe’, and thus keeping them productive. Here, I want to talk about the impact that leaders in your organisations can also contribute to keep people happy and productive.

Lead, and they shall follow

Elaine referenced a study from Personal Psychology, which measured behaviours of school principals and teachers in an Israeli public school during a period of transformational change. The principals were the leaders, the teachers the followers. The study uncovered the fact that when principals were more open to organisational change, teachers were far less resistant to that change.

The study demonstrates what many of us will already know, or suspect, to be true – people in our organisation will take their cue from their leaders. We aren’t just talking about the C-suite here – line managers and team leaders can sometimes have more of an impact on their direct reports than senior executives. How do they feel about your organisation’s response to Brexit? Are they open to it, or resistant? Are they even aware of how their attitudes to change can affect the people they lead?

How to support your leaders

Of course, it’s not as simple as just saying to these people “be more enthusiastic about change,” and then sitting back. Line managers operate in a particularly difficult space during transitions. On the one hand, they are often leading through the change themselves ensuring that change is carried out. They must ensure that new systems, processes and structures are implemented successfully, and manage the unavoidable confusion and tensions these changes bring. On the other hand, they are also going through the changes and considering the impacts for themselves as individuals. They will have their own thoughts and attitudes towards change, and will be subject to those same confusions and tensions as changes affect their roles.

So the support you provide to your leaders needs to be twofold. Firstly, tackle their own responses to change. Take steps to find out what their attitudes are to your change plans, and make a real effort to bring them with you by giving opportunities for them to voice their own concerns. Define a vision for the change you’re implementing, and communicate it with leaders in your organisation in order to inspire them. The more bought into your change initiative your leaders are, the easier it will be for them to manage their own responses to that change and, in turn, those of the people they lead.

Speaking of those people, the second part of your support to your leadership is to give them the tools they need to communicate your vision onwards, and to deal with their employees’ emotional responses.

Empower leaders with Connor

It’s plain that your organisation’s leaders have the potential to be pivotal in your preparations for Brexit. If they are properly empowered and supported, line managers and other leaders in your organisation can keep the people they manage from feeling uncertain and afraid of the future.

At Connor we have more than 25 years’ experience helping individuals and organisations lead through change. Check out our INSPIRED performance programme to find out more, or give us a call on +44 (0) 1491 414010.


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