5 ways to help your team navigate the fear of change

25.02.20 02:54 PM

There’s been a lot of movement in the field of change management in the last two years, including the sentiment that “Change management is dead”. For the most part, I agree with the idea that you don’t need a specific methodology or process for change because you can’t truly “manage” change. Especially today, with change happening so fast around us. I think some methodologies work, and others work ‘sometimes' and others never work. But in the end, there are a range of ingredients above and beyond methodologies that contribute to the success of any change in your organisation. These ingredients include type and size of the project, type and size of organisation, leadership, methodologies, communication practices, appetite for change, the existing culture, mindset and readiness (among others). And when you put them all together in the right mix, you get success. I don’t believe there is “one true way” for dealing with change.
However, from my observations, excellent change leadership, and making sure teams have a mindset for change, are big contributing factors in successfully navigating change. 
Fear of change is common. This fear is why people turn down new challenges, take too long to capitalise on opportunities and stay in their comfort zones. Change triggers a sense of danger, even though we are built to enjoy novelty. I saw this in action with a client recently. Despite this team being in an uncomfortable situation, and despite my confidence that they could change the situation, I could see them visibly shy away from all potential solutions because of their fear of change. 

One by one they started to make the following excuses:

They didn’t have time. 
It wasn’t the right time to implement that. 
They had several things to achieve first. 

They were internally protecting themselves from the perceived danger without even noticing they were doing it. This self-corrective mechanism is a natural response to keep you in the familiar, even if it is uncomfortable. 

Although the brain’s ability to cope with change is rather complex, it can be simply described. Any change we contemplate takes us out of our comfort zone. When this happens, a chemical signal enters our nervous system. Our brain picks up the signal as doubt, fear or anxiety. This signals danger to the brain and we begin to doubt if this is good for us. The doubt prompts us to make whatever adjustments necessary to return us to our previous state. Now it is true that in most cases, our brains enjoy the novelty. But this is if we can find solutions to problems and also create new “mental maps” or models for dealing with the novelty. In short, we make the novelty a norm. 
This is where mindset is important. Having the right mindset for change can dramatically increase your team’s receptiveness to the change. This will greatly improve the success of whatever methodology you use to implement the change. As a leader, your role is to help your team navigate the fear of change. Here are five ways you can do that:

1.Help your team maintain perspective
Our interpretation of the meaning and feeling of change is what signals danger. Poor interpretation of the doubt scares you into freezing or fighting or fleeing. Having a mindset for change allows you to choose to recognise it is just a signal that alerts us to the fact we are about to experience change and reframing it so that it is no longer a perceived danger.
Help your team interpret the change correctly. Fill in any gaps in information and be transparent. Don't keep information close to your chest for fear of panic. Help your team get all the information they need to come to the right conclusions;
You can help your team realise that they are not in danger. Spend time listening to their perceived dangers and address them.  A simple coaching exercise involves asking your team to describe the challenge they are facing while focusing only on the facts and helping them to avoid using emotive language or describing only their emotions. Ask them to describe the worst-case scenario of what will happen as a result of the situation, then the best-case, and finally the probable-case. Explore if any of the described cases have any irrational thoughts or beliefs. Help them reframe irrational thoughts and come up with one action that will get them closer to the probable case.

Mental rehearsal is a technique that is used by athletes to help them achieve their goals. Also known as visualisation, it helps decrease the fear of change or the fear of the unknown. The subconscious mind cannot distinguish between an external experience in the physical world, and that same experience conveyed to the brain by your imagination. Visualisation can, therefore, help make what you desire to be more familiar and helps people formulate new neural connections. They become acclimatised and more comfortable with the novel ideas and future. Remember, when something is familiar, it is less scary. So, if you visualise something enough, you slowly expand your comfort zone. 

3.Notice positive changes every day
Create a practice of noticing changes that have had a positive effect on your team’s ability to do business, especially if it is related to your change project. By recognising the positive effects of change, you'll retrain your team to see change as an opportunity rather than a threat. 

4.Help teams plan for obstacles
Most change methodologies help you and your team develop a plan for change. You create a few goals and you work towards them. Yet, you must help your team think about any obstacles that may come up AND help them plan for that. People often give up on pursuing a goal the minute an obstacle they hadn't foreseen arises. It becomes a demotivating force, and soon enough, you may be pushing the project up a very steep hill. When you set goals that help you move through change, ask your team to think of any obstacles that may pop up and decide what they will do when this happens. In that way, they will feel prepared for sudden changes and not be demotivated by them. 

5.Watch your language about change
Watch the language you use about change. I have been in a room as leaders described the change as hard, difficult and acknowledge teams were “fatigued”. This only served to strengthen the idea that change is a negative event. You can help your team put new meanings on their feelings of change. Call it excitement instead of doubt or fear. Ask them to be fit and ready for change rather than to prepare for fatigue. 

Great change leaders know that change is not an event. It ebbs and flows while never going away. Whether large or small, it's a continual part of organisational life. Great change leaders hate the status quo without changing everything for change’s sake. They change to take advantage of opportunities and stay ahead of the competition. And that takes a great mindset that doesn’t fear change. 

If you need some help with developing a mindset for change, then book a complimentary call with me here today.