A Rough Guide to Leading Organizational Change


Change is the only constant in our universe. The seasons perpetually change to indicate the passing years, a flower blooms beautifully only to wilt and die and the caterpillar turns into the most beautiful butterfly. Change is a part of life, and with each change, something more extraordinary and more beautiful emerges.

However change is not easy and we would rather hold on to what is familiar than risk the unknown, especially when it comes to organizational change in a complex and integrated world. More often than not we ignore the changes around us, not willing to let go of what we worked so hard to achieve to make way for something or someone new. Better to know the devil you do than the devil you don’t, right?

Not quite, as in today’s fast paced world, not being able to adapt to the changing currents around you, you risk losing everything. Change, now more than ever before, is an element of life that can’t be ignored. It is no longer optional and yet it feels as if we haven’t been prepared well enough for the changes that we go through.  So how can you as a leader make a change in your organization easier for your employees?

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Travelling has made me a master at change, as no matter how well you plan, there will always be some unexpected turn of events that you will have to deal with, usually in a country that you don’t speak the language of or are not familiar with the customs. Travelling in developing countries are even harder, as what you consider standard is usually not so standard, and language makes the barrier even bigger.

From my various change experiences at work, including downsizing, restructuring, and relocations; as well as my extensive travel around the world, here are my top 5 tips for anyone having to lead change in an organization.

When an organizational change is announced, mostly it is met with anxiety and fear and more employees than is impacted by the change start looking for a more stable job elsewhere, increasing the impact of the change even more.

Understand that change of any kind is traumatic and be extra kind and flexible with your employees. It is not a time to be strict and hard, rather it is a time to let the rules slide a bit while the employees adapt to the change. The harder you push them to be ready, the longer they will take. Let people take longer lunch breaks and allow them to be late with deliverables.

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Notice where the change left open seats and pull the team closer together by changing the seating arrangements to a more supportive structure where everyone is included.  Be patient and kind and ask continuously whether they have questions or need anything. Make it clear that you understand that this is a stressful situation and that you are there for them, not only during the first few days of the new announcement.

My worst trip was a delayed flight in Shanghai, leaving me at an airport without anyone (or so it seemed) that spoke English and without a clue of what was going on, only directed to a waiting area with a bunch of other travellers. Eventually, about 3 hours later, there was an announcement in Chinese and everyone around me got up. I followed the crowd outdoors where the next round of waiting occurred, still unaware of what is happening or where I’m going. This time, we were running back and forth trying to fit into overloaded busses.

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Change is stressful at the best of times. Not know what is going on makes it exponentially worse. Make sure that you as leader over communicate for at least a month after the change was announced.

When people are stressed they will only hear what they can handle at that time according to their own personal filters, which is almost guaranteed not to be the entire message.

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