Leading Your Team Through The Rumour Mill

Change is not uncommon.  In fact, it’s pretty much the standard modus operandi in these days of fast changing market conditions. What happens to the workforce in times of change, when the change is not communicated, or worse, it is whispered about in hallways causing speculation to run rampant? Low morale, uncertainty, stress and an awful lot of sitting around feeling sorry for one’s self causes rumours to start.

Here is your 5-step plan to help you and your team stay in top form in uncertain times.

Step 1: Manage Yourself

It is practically impossible to manage your team’s emotions if you can’t manage your own. In times of change, human nature tends to expect the worst. Heck, we even have proverbs that tell you to hope for the best, but expect the worst. That’s not particularly helpful. What is helpful is drawing on your capability to manage change.

Do this: Focus on the other times in the past when you were confronted with change, and you managed to navigate it beautifully. You must have, or you wouldn’t be here today, right? You know you are capable of managing this too. Feel that strength.

Step 2: Paint Your Picture

Worrying about the negative outcomes of change is a waste of precious mental and emotional energy. Not only that, but it is more contagious than the worst of viruses. This does not mean putting your head in the sand, be aware of the facts in an objective manner and create a picture of your desired outcome around them. In the words of Peter Drucker, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Do this: Picture in your mind the exact outcome you would like to live and experience as a result of the change that’s ongoing in your organization. Picture it in detail in your mind, complete with emotion. Create a vision that makes you feel good and makes you feel strong.

One rule: It’s your movie, so make sure you’re the hero. No one else is in your head, so don’t be shy.

Step 3: Paint The Team Picture

You now have your movie script for the best outcome. Your next step is to create strong supporting roles for your team in your movie. Zig Ziglar said it best: “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” Do you know what each of your team members wants? Assuming you do could be a huge mistake on your part.

Do this: Spend one-on-one time with each one of your team members. Help them choose the best outcome for themselves and help them paint it, just like you painted it for yourself.

Each team member is the star of their own movie. Your job as team leader and director of the team movie is to make sure everyone has a starring role and no one ends up as the bad guy who gets shot at the end. Not even the whiner you secretly can’t stand.

Step 4: Develop & Work Your Action Plan

When changes are announced, or worse, there are rumours in the organization, it is common to be faced with this strange kind of paralysis that stops you from doing anything. Developing a joint vision with your team is your antidote to that. Use that vision to develop an action plan – something that you can work on, on a daily basis. Granted, there might be real constraints, such as directives to stop your project. As a team leader, there are still lots of initiatives you can get your team to focus on: you could work on some prototypes, play skill building games or get on with the internal project you’ve been meaning to finish.

Do this: Work to a weekly target that forces action. Just make sure it’s focused work.

Work to creating something your team can be proud of, whether it’s a new process or preparing and passing a professional certification exam. It is during these lull times of change that you and your team risk sliding into apathy. Creating action and movement will counteract this and help you work to the vision you created, despite the changes.

Step 5: Rinse and Repeat

In times of uncertainty, it is not uncommon to have to change direction often, sometimes even weekly, as the organizational roadmap changes. Practice painting your pictures, yours and your team’s. Make it part of your weekly routine and you will find that your vision adjusts, taking into account the latest developments. Each week, your action plans will become even more attuned to your constantly re-detailed vision. This makes them even more actionable. You will have given yourself and your team a target to work to, whilst other teams around you are stuck dealing with doubt and uncertainty.

Do this: Continue to focus your team on the routine of choosing outcome(s) and working towards them. You will instinctively work to your sphere of control and get out of the unhelpful “it’s not up to me” mindset.

With this plan, you can navigate the murky waters of badly communicated and/or executed change, no matter what the reality of the situation is. It’s easy to lead in good times, when the roadmap is clear and energy is high. Now, you also know how to lead in not so good times, when there is no clear roadmap, and the only communication in the organization is the rumour mill.

Bonus: When the change actually happens, you and your team will be more than ready for the new challenges.

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