Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

July 2000
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Helping People Through Change

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Even when a major change is clearly necessary and beneficial, it is stressful and painful for people. Change causes adjustment, discomfort, disruption and dislocation. A vital part of the process of implementing change involves motivating and supporting people. Even those who are initially excited about a change will need continued support and encouragement as the inevitable difficulties and failures occur. It is the leader’s responsibility to:

1. Prepare people to adjust to change. Change requires difficult adjustments by the people who are most effected. If people are unable to handle the stress of change, they may become depressed or mutinous. Alternating successes and failures give even the most optimistic change agents the feeling that they are on an emotional roller coaster. Uncertainty about progress and the repeated discovery of new obstacles increase fatigue and frustration. All these negative aspects of change are easier to cope with if the people know in advance what to expect and how to deal with it. God tells His children in advance about the trials and difficulties that await them (John 16:13; Acts 9:16; 14:22; etc.). It is far better to be realistic about the necessary adjustments and pain, than to present the upcoming change as a cure-all with no costs or problems. One strategy is to find another organization that has implemented similar change and have someone from it share about their experiences and what they did to get through their change successfully.

2. Help people deal with the loss of change. When significant changes are made, some people experience personal pain at the loss of familiar things to which they had become very attached. This trauma may be experienced whether the change involves new strategies and programs, new equipment and work procedures, new facilities, new management practices, or new leaders. Leaders can help their people by allowing them to verbalize their sense of loss and grief, and then gently pointing them to the benefits of the change and the bright new future before them. Leaders should also pray for and with their constituents for the grace of God to help them make the transition.

3. Keep people informed about the progress of change. In a time of stress and anxiety, such as is produced by major change, people look to their leaders to explain what is happening and to keep them informed. People will be more optimistic and enthusiastic if they know the change is progressing successfully. Leaders should frequently communicate what steps have been initiated, what changes have been completed and what resulting improvements have occurred. Successes should be celebrated and people recognized for their contributions and achievements. When obstacles are encountered, the leaders should explain what they are and what will be done about them. If the plan for change must be revised, leaders should explain why it was necessary. Otherwise, people may interpret revisions as a sign of faltering commitment or impending disaster.

4. Encourage people to continue to look to the Lord. God holds the future in His hands, and if the change is in line with His will and purposes, He will see the organization through. God is faithful.

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.(Phil. 1:6)

People in an organization do not embrace change at the same time. The next Leadership Letter will examine some differences in how people “adopt innovation.”

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