I recently facilitated a session on Emotional Intelligence with a small group of CEOs of mid-size companies who are in growth mode. I was hired for the round-table session to help them appreciate the impact of change on their employees. Change Management is certainly not a new topic and there are dozens of very good books out there on the subject. I chose to discuss this from an EQ perspective and a personal perspective.
I started by asking this question: What was the worst thing anyone has ever done to you? I asked them to write this down and capture some words or phrases that described how they felt. Some folks had to go back to their childhood but just about everyone recalled fairly vividly this event in their lives. I asked the CEOs to share this with the group. Several key themes emerged from this simple 15 minute exercise.
First, no one was immune from such an experience. Second, the experiences varied broadly and something that might be considered trivial to someone might very well be very traumatic to another. And finally, what made the experience so hurtful was that at the time in occurred, there seemed to be few tools or skills or people or places around to help them process it. In other words, there was no change management.
When going through any change at work, I find a great deal of effort is put into the organizations’ systems, structures, and processes to make sure that the proverbial engine still works. But little effort is given to managing emotions of people. For a handful, that change might be very traumatic. For others, it might cause severe anxiety, and for others, it might just be business as usual… as was the case in the exercise I did.
As leaders, we often do not know, or take the time to know, where our teams and staff are every time we make changes. Both the magnitude and speed of workplace changes have been on the rise for decades now. This week, I ask you to take inventory of the last two or three changes in your team or organization and all the people who were impacted by it. How was emotional impact of those changes managed?
Just as schools bring in counselors in the event of a tragedy to help kids manage the change, I argue that the workplace and employees deserve the same consideration. Kids, in fact, are better at manifesting their emotions whereas adults are better at camouflaging them in fear of being viewed unfavorably. Clearly, the size of the change and the context of the culture determine the appropriate response.
There is a well-known company in the Midwest that offers their employees one additional week of vacation with every role change—to be taken within 90 days of the new role. There is another in Florida that brought in two dozen massage therapists the week they announced major organizational changes and offered free 30-minute massages. There is a west coast company that has an in-house cafeteria that offered its employees free lunch for two weeks as they announced a merger with a rival company and all executives of the company sat in random tables where any employee could sit and engage in dialogue.
These, and so many other good ideas, allow for a potentially “worst experience” to be diluted emotionally. As you take your inventory, think of what changes are pending and how you can lead emotionally.