Compassionate Management

Managing organizational change

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Organizational change is inevitable, and we all need to deal with it occasionally. But when you are a manager, you’re responsible not only for yourself, but also for helping your team navigate the changes. Everyone knows change creates stress, but did you know that organizational change is one of the top workplace stressors? The good news is there are lots of things you can do to ease the way for your team.

Announcing change

We’ll talk about two types of organizational change in this article: reorganizations and process change. Regardless of the type of change going on, it’s important for you to share changes as soon as you can to avoid rumor and anxiety. Whenever you are announcing change, you should focus on why the change is happening, the impact to the organization and finally, the impact to your direct team. Some changes will create more emotional response than others. If the change is emotionally charged for you, work on managing your emotion by focusing on the facts and the ways you can help.

When you are describing change to your team, you should focus on opportunities created by the change. Of course, there may be threats and down sides to the situation. Be realistic and honest about the level of difficulty in the change. But even if you don’t agree with the changes taking place, you need to let the team know that your job is to put them in place. So, you can, and should, discuss the “elephants” in the room – but you should shift the focus to what is going to happen going forward instead of dwelling on the downside.


Reorganizations create a lot of stress. Rumors can fly for weeks, even months sometimes, when major reorganizations are in the works and people can have a lot of time to speculate. Managers don’t always have a lot of time before public announcements. But whenever possible, you should communicate role changes privately before any public announcements. Then, of course, talk to the team about the change and impact to the team. If everyone is not aware of the impact for themselves personally, don’t give details about individuals. Let the team know when you’ll be communicating the new organigram for the team.

Get time with each of your team members to discuss personal impact. If you have new team members joining the team, you’ll want to spend a bit more time with them. Have a discussion about their experience and skills. Share your management style and principles with them and let them know how the team works together. In situations where employees have been moved around a lot due to reorganizations, you’ll want to reassure them as best you can. Often, just taking the time to have such a discussion can go a long way towards reassuring anxious team members. Formally introduce them to the team. Ask everyone to share their roles and something about themselves.

A discussion with the previous manager of team members moving into your team is an important step. Get an update on their perspective, the team member’s salary and performance. For team members moving to other teams, you’ll want to debrief their new managers in a similar fashion.

Finally, if your own manager changes, prepare a clear view of the team, key projects, known issues and your management system. Enquire about their management system and start getting to know their communication and leadership style. Help them get to know you as well by sharing your career trajectory and key skills – both those used in your current role and any untapped skills you aren’t being called on to use currently.

Don’t just assume that once the change is introduced, everything will work fluidly. Keep an eye on how things evolve. Some people adapt quickly and easily to change, others need more time and encouragement.

Process change

Digital transformation is disrupting legacy work processes and how things get done. New processes are meant to be more efficient and effective. The reality is, process change can have the opposite effect for some time before it is understood and becomes deeply rooted. As a manager, you play a key role in easing this transition for your team.

When you are communicating the change, it’s helpful to name a focal point who will share new information, become the “team expert”, and collect questions and issues. That could be you or it could be a member of your team. You can also assign specific topics to individual team members and have them share back what they learned with the rest of the team.

Make sure you are sharing the training documents for the new process. If there are multiple things under transformation in parallel, you may want to provide recommendations for your team for prioritization. Help the team understand where they should focus first, and the best way to get started. That can take the form of a structured training plan or a less formal set of recommendations.

Keep a pulse on what’s working and what isn’t. If there is a company focal point for the change, keep them informed of the major issues and barriers to progress.  Keep the team informed – either through direct participation in updates or by recapping for them. Identify the experts on the new process and help your team to connect with them when appropriate.

In the era of Agile, process change often comes in increments and new processes may be rolled out before they are completely ready for prime time. Frustrations will run high when process change interrupts and hinders daily business needs. Help your team to level-set on what is possible and what is not. Identify the impact and make sure your management is aware. Encourage the team to focus on what they can do and help them troubleshoot overcoming new obstacles.

Finally, talk to your peers and other managers who are managing the transformation. Share the experience your team is having. Learn how other teams are overcoming the obstacles. It’s empowering to know that you aren’t alone, and your team members should understand the level of difficulty being experienced across the organization. It’s not about whining about how hard it is – it’s about realizing that the issues are understood, and that the situation will evolve.

Change is hard. But as a manager, you can make it easier for your team by the way you handle it. Communicate. Stay involved. Keep the team focused. Step by step, change becomes routine again.

Fostering collaboration

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Collaboration is essential to the success of multi-discipline and multi-departmental projects. It serves to provide different types of perspectives and expertise on any given problem or project. Indeed, it enhances the effectiveness of problem solving when done well. It also provides great opportunities for learning and growth.

Collaboration is more than just teamwork. Teamwork requires knowing your role, the steps to do it and who and when to hand off. Collaboration requires sharing perspective, opinion and experience. Without collaboration, a group of people is only as strong as each person’s individual contributions. A collaborative team however, represents more than the sum total of its members.

As a manager or project manager, collaboration starts with you. The first step to fostering collaboration is to solicit it yourself. If you are open to listening, understanding and applying others’ expertise, you can leverage their strengths. When you have a new project, idea, problem, take it to the team and ask for input. Encourage questions and facilitate brainstorming sessions to solve problems. Demonstrate by example how you strengthen your decision-making with others’ expertise. Be careful, If you invite other’s opinions but consistently ignore them, the team will be likely to mirror your behavior and stay entrenched in their own views.

Sharing expertise is the most empowering benefit of collaboration. Encourage it by establishing where expertise lies in the team. Who is the expert in key tools, processes, and skills? Communicate that expertise to the whole group. Ask experts to give their input when their domain is involved. Invite experts, in your team and in others, to share their expertise with the broader team. When new tools and processes are established, ask for a volunteer to become the focal point and expert.

Provide a forum to share best practices. When you see something particularly well done, innovative or effective, ask the team to create a best practice and share it around. But don’t only share successes. Share stories about issues and problems so the team can learn from past mistakes and help solve current problems.

One of the critical elements in collaboration is trust. Trust that a person, team or group is fully sharing knowledge, will do what they say they will do and has no hidden agendas. Reputation and personal experience govern trust in general. If you have a reputation for being a straight shooter and a good listener, open to discussion, you’ll begin new collaborations with an advantage of additional trust. If you are known as closed minded and unwilling to discuss or negotiate, you’ll find others less willing to work together.

Collaboration can also get out of hand. Not every topic needs to be debated and decided on in a group. Determining what decisions, problems and projects require collaboration and which ones don’t is an important first step. Where you, or your team, have ALL the expertise required to make a decision - no collaboration needed! If problems and projects require cross functional expertise, you’ll need to have the perspective of other teams and disciplines – thus collaboration.

When you are bringing together large groups, there are a few ways you can manage collaboration so it does not get out of control. Establish the expertise of each person in the group at the outset. When decisions present themselves, explicitly designate the experts who will have the final say/decision. That could be a combination of a sponsor/project manager and an expert, or several experts. The larger group can be asked for input and should be given an explanation on the key points which influenced the decision.

Finally, when very diverse groups meet together on a regular basis, it’s key to establish an agenda for meetings and clearly define what topics will be covered and decisions are needed.  This allows collaborators to know when they can safely bow out of a meeting where their expertise is less in demand.

It’s quite amazing to see a team start to get more autonomous about problem solving – going to one another for insights and advice before coming to the team’s or project’s manager. It takes some time to instill an overall sense of collaboration in a team. If you’re just getting started, be patient. It’s up to you to start by setting the example and then encourage others to follow suit.

Authenticity and vulnerability: walking the tightrope

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We all wear a mask to some extent when we go to work. We want to put forward our best selves. We put on our work uniforms (and yes, even those of us who don’t wear a formal uniform still have our “work clothes”), comb our hair, put on our makeup and show our professional faces. Being authentic at work can be daunting. What to show, what to keep for ourselves?

Say what you think

There are many ways to be authentic. One is to say what you really think instead of sticking to a company “party-line” or blindly agreeing to other’s ideas. Share your thoughts and experience, and especially your ideas for different ways to do things. Make sure you are providing productive feedback though, and not just griping. It’s worth speaking up with a different opinion if it comes with a different solution to solve the problem. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates an alternative opinion or solution being proposed. You’ll find some leaders open and others who expect their team to simply fall in line. Listen and learn who your boss is and how he or she prefers to hear opinions, thoughts and ideas.

When I have to deliver news which I know is uncomfortable, I share my own discomfort with the situation. Just because are required to do something as a manager or an employee does not mean you are comfortable with it. I have always tried to be open about what I think about things personally at the same time as I demonstrate, professionally, that I expect us to all move forward despite our discomfort. It’s a fine line to walk. As a manager, you represent decision-making authority, even if you didn’t make the decision. Showing your team compassion for the impact of the decision while taking concrete actions to implement it is not an impossible conundrum, but it is a little tricky. 

Lift the mask

Authenticity also comes from lifting up the mask a little and letting people see your personal life. Sharing stories about your favorite hobby, or about time spent with your spouse or children, your vacation, all enable people to see a personal side to you. You become more relatable to people who have something in common with you. And that’s part of how trust and relationships are built. The other part comes, of course, from delivering professionally.

Be vulnerable

Another aspect of authenticity is vulnerability. Admitting to others that you are human and capable of mistakes requires humility and vulnerability. To me, that’s a big part of vulnerability – being honest about your personal responsibility in things. Yes, I made a mistake…..and here’s how I am going to fix it. And here’s how I am going to avoid this ever happening again. Apologizing is a powerful tool, but it is much more powerful when accompanied by an action to counter the mistake.

Read the situation

I’ve gotten mixed advice over the years about admitting mistakes, or admitting that I don’t know something. Part of that is definitely from working in a Global culture. Some cultures admire the capability to admit mistakes and others are more focused on maintaining “face”. So, know who you are talking to and decide if you can “lift the mask” and show your face or whether you need to maintain the perfect professional face.

But it’s not just who you are talking to but what’s going on around you. The HBR article, The authenticity paradox, gives two examples where authenticity and vulnerability did not work out well. Admitting that you need help is one thing. Appearing like you can’t handle your job is quite another. In addition, authenticity is not an open invitation to refuse to grow in uncomfortable ways. Like everything else, there’s a time and a place for authenticity and vulnerability. Be sensitive to the context of your situation and the personalities of the people around you.

This blog was first published at Forbes.

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