Leading Your Team Successfully Through Change

Don’t lose good people or jeopardize the team you’ve worked so hard to build

Your GM quits. Tribal Council turns over, and you’re not sure what that means for your larger initiatives. You’re adding on a new hotel; rooms must be filled, and guest service has to be impeccable or heads will roll. Revenues are flat and the CFO wants a new strategy tomorrow on how to fix it. You’re investing in a million-dollar system and revenue must be recovered quickly. Sound familiar?

An essential skill for frontline leaders is the ability to lead their team successfully through change. The amount of stress that change brings to our guests and our team members is substantial, so to successfully support them through transformative times is necessary to keep and/or restore their trust.

At our property, 7 Cedars Casino, construction is underway with our long-awaited hotel. We’ve had a lot of “mess” and the loss of 125 of our premier parking spots is annoying to our guests. Taking a proactive stance was critical as losing revenue at this time was not an option. Our CEO Jerry Allen and I attended every department meeting, explaining the construction process and giving tools to our team members on how to excite our guests for this next phase of our development. On our loudest days (jackhammers going all day), we would remind our teams about what to say to our guests. And do you know what? Revenue has been up! How does that happen? Having a developed leadership team who knows how to lead their teams through change is how that happens.

Success Through Supervisors

Our supervisors have the biggest impact on the success of our organization, so we put the time and resources into this group to prepare them for when change happens. We know our team looks to our supervisors first (in the same way a child would look to a parent when changes happen) to gauge how they should react to change, so we want our leaders to be calm and solution-oriented.

Very few people like change; there is usually a feeling of immediate resistance. The reason? We feel comfortable when things are predictable and stable. There will be disruption and that will provoke fear. If our leadership team stays focused on the solution, we’ll transition through the change successfully.

Steps to Developing Change Readiness

The first step is to develop change readiness, and this happens in the off-season. Does each team member know the goals of the department, and are we able to collaborate on solutions if we are not meeting our goals? We coach for an “ownership mindset” with our teams. It’s very easy to slip into a victim mindset when the workload is piling on. We lean in and shift our mindset from a victim to thinking like an owner. To complete our foundation of readiness, we give our teams the tools necessary to navigate their way through this change.

Step two is to clearly define when change is in process. When change is looming, we define the change in a way that is convincing and precise for our team. It’s important to do this to prevent speculation. We let them know what the change is and what it is not (the HR team might be relocating, but the team members won’t be changing). We collaborate on the benefits and risks involved in the change, as well as the requirements from each team member so they feel prepared.

Communication, Resistance and Managing Self-Talk

Something that is often missed is communicating why this change is necessary and what would happen if the change didn’t happen. We also describe what the change will look like and the transition process. Are our leaders credible, do they have all the facts? Are they concerned with the well-being of our guests and our team members, and are they willing to stay connected to the team member throughout the change?

Let’s talk about resistance. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring the emotional impact; talk about the denial, anger, guilt and blame, if present. There’s also managing self-talk. Think about the most annoying team member you work with and they just walked through the door, what’s your self-talk? Or how about your boss? When they walk into the room with that “look,” do you assume you’ve done something wrong? In any scenario, your self-talk is probably not something you would say out loud. Negative self-talk is sabotaging our relationships and it’s essential to manage so we can show up to the conversation in a professional manner. Here’s an example of self-talk that a team member shared with me:

I was running late for work and I was on empty, so I had to stop for gas. I pulled in and the lady in front of me was having a difficult time. She had to call out the attendant and was still having trouble! My self-talk was going crazy. I was punishing myself for my lack of preparation. I was putting a lot of blame on her when I heard myself say, “Come on, lady, is this your first time pumping gas or what?” Then I thought to change my self-talk with “Maybe this is her first time pumping gas, maybe her husband of 50 years passed away and he always made sure her tank was full and she’s terrified out here trying to do it on her own.”

She didn’t know if that was true or not, but it moved her from a position of irritation to a position of compassion and she got out and helped the lady. We cannot positively influence our team members if we have this internal, negative self-talk constantly running through our head (it does come out one way or another).

Once we have a handle on our own self-talk, I bring out our REACH model. It helps me reach those who have shut down or checked out. Here we recognize if there is a need the associate has, so we explore what we can do to help. We affirm a commitment on their part to move toward the change, and confirm our dedication to helping them with this process as well. Afterwards, all parties should feel like they have honored each other in this process and been given a chance to voice their concern.

When Change Has Arrived

The last part is making change happen, implementation of the change. When you ask MBA students what they study most, strategy or implementation, they always say strategy. And yet, implementation is critical to the success of any initiative.

You need to collaborate with your team on how the process should go. If it’s a collective effort, form a committee. Then, I use a very simple PDCA (plan, do, check and act) worksheet to organize our thoughts. It is designed to keep you focused on the goal, because implementing change is not as easy as it may sound.

As you can see, coaching through change isn’t as easy as we thought. And this may be the reason why we have so many conflicts when implementing change and why we lose good people in the transition. The good news is, we are teachable! We, as leaders, can learn to lead our teams through change successfully.

Paula Allen 8 Articles