Throughout their history, organizations will be faced with changes and “re-organizations” in order to keep themselves relevant. In difficult economic times, change and restructuring may happen more frequently. No matter how hard leaders try for a seamless transition, there comes a time when that is impossible.
When change arrives, leadership immediately goes before the firing squad of public opinion. The opinions that will be voiced the loudest will be those of the employees. Some will voice fears of lay-offs. Some will voice angst over a change in team dynamics. Some will just voice grievances to anyone that will listen. Maintaining a team-based philosophy will be difficult, to say the very least.
During times of change and impossible seamlessness, leaders should practice what I call “The Bounty Theory.” This theory was developed after great research and exploration of cultural texts and phenomena. To be more specific, it was based on the premise of a famous commercial jingle. Sing it with me now: “The quilted, thicker, picker-upper…Boun-ty!”
First, leaders must “quilt” themselves in enough personal strength to withstand criticism. This may seem like it is a given in leadership, but it is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of this theory. Leaders must create an external buffer that will prevent harsh, sometimes bordering on vicious, criticism from creeping into their psyche. As steps are taken to implement change that will benefit the organization as a whole, the sheer volume of criticism will seem overwhelming. By throwing a barrier of self-security over their shoulders and trudging on, leaders will be able to focus on the mission without becoming mired down in the minutiae.
Second, leaders must develop thick skin and thicker hearing “blockers”. The thick skin will be required to simply lead anyone and any team through a restructuring effort. Even professional friends will offer their thoughts and opinions. Kindness has been known to go out the window, along with manners. By thickening one’s skin, focus remains on the task at hand and not on squabbles.
But, more importantly, a leader must develop thicker hearing blockers. It is not enough to have thick skin – a leader must be able to quickly discern which criticism to heed and which to ignore. Having an open door policy is great, and sometimes necessary. Inviting employees and stakeholders to have a no-holds-barred venting session may prove beneficial for those doing the venting. As the leaders of a dynamic team, however, it is essential that a majority of the arguments be blocked. Being able to identify which concerns are valid and which are born out of a deep-rooted issue that is not relevant to the situation will be critical to the long-term success of any organizational effort.
Finally, a leader must be the ultimate “picker-upper.” If employee morale drops, it is the leader’s responsibility to take steps to pick it up. If productivity takes a dive, it is the leader’s responsibility to work diligently to address the problem and pick it up. If layoffs become inevitable and an organization is expected to progress with a smaller workforce, it is the leader’s responsibility to develop a plan and pick the organization up.
At all times, the leader is being watched for how they react under pressure. The employees will react accordingly. Those who continue to wallow in the frustration of the changes must be addressed – tactfully, but quickly.
By protecting oneself from unwelcomed criticism, developing thick skin and even thicker hearing blockers, and accepting their role as the “picker-upper”, leaders can emerge relatively unscathed. Most importantly, the organizations will maneuver through the streets of change and uncertainty with grace and ease.
When the dust of change settles, clients and stakeholders will be watching to see if the company still shines. They won’t ask how many paper towels it took to get it there.