6 Steps for Navigating Culture Change

Tim Toterhi

Tim ToterhiIFP HR Expert

Friday, September 28, 2018

Change is inevitable but many employees find change unnerving and this can cause additional stress and upheaval in day-to-day life. Navigating that change constructively and effectively is key to easing the pain of the change cycle..


Big change happens. Companies merge, get acquired, and radically adjust core elements of their leadership team, structure, or strategy. While financial growth is often the catalyst for these events, there is an art to change management that cannot be conveyed in a spreadsheet. Even what is perceived as positive change has a tendency to give employees pause and encourage them to evaluate other opportunities. Of course not all news will be welcomed, but by taking the following steps, leaders can help expedite employees’ journey through the change cycle.

1. Embody the desired behavior

Leaders cast a big shadow. This is especially true in turbulent times, when employees are struggling to re-learn the rules of the game such as who to please, what qualifies as good performance, and where decision-making authority really lies.

If leaders display a “me first,” empire-building mindset, employees will follow suit to the detriment of the organization. In times of change, it is more productive to share the change drivers, targeted synergies, and updated business plan. Then offer a common near-term goal and ask for support in achieving it.

2. Hug the messenger

…or at least don’t shoot him. Expect and even welcome problems and reward those who bring them to light quickly. When leaders create a safe environment where “devil’s advocates” are listened to and potential challenges are evaluated, the likelihood of success increases.

Leaders can further engender employee engagement by involving them in the solution. After all, employees who are wise enough to spot potential pitfalls are usually smart enough to envision and implement a fix.

3. Forecast the news cycle

Employees are often under the impression that “management” has all the answers. Leaders should be clear that even well planned change events have a multitude of moving parts that can often result in “this just in” style news stories.

While facts such as individual reporting relationships may be fleeting, the truth of the things should be hard-wired. When leaders consistently convey the messages of unchanging elements such as stakeholder benefits, trust is enhanced.

4. Explain the new deal ASAP

Companies have a habit of telling employees everything but what they really want to know. Sure, employees will listen to strategic plans, but often their primary focus is more basic – like, do I have a job and will my boss and benefits change? Answer definitively what truly matters as soon as possible and be truthful about what remains undecided. When people can visualize the potential win state for themselves, they are more apt to support the cause.

5. Move fast

While prudent planning is always a necessity, implementation and ultimate adoption of change is often dependent on remaining fast of foot. While full change may take 18-24 months, a well-crafted, 100-day plan should have you well on the way to realizing quick wins. Just be sure to do a “sanity check” before you begin to ensure the actions, deliverables, and targeted results can be realistically completed within agreed timelines.   

6. Focus on others first

People sometimes forget that all employees, including leaders, experience the change event. While some may have the “inside scoop” on the change project, most are but players in the game.

A key mistake, whether one of perception or reality, is for leaders to hyper-focus on their personal situation. Nothing kills engagement faster than when employees get wind of horse-trading at the top. Effective leaders will be smart about their own careers to be sure, but should focus primarily on the welfare of their operations.

Remember, in times of change people won’t hear and/or believe the messages they receive… especially at first. You’ll need all the energy you can muster to get them on your side.

IFP Expert: Tim Toterhi is not your usual HR guy. He’s passionate about slashing bureaucracy and rethinking old thinking. He is a TEDx speaker, ICF certified coach, PMP, and the author of several books including The Introvert's Guide to Job Hunting and The HR Guide to Getting and Crushing Your Dream Job. Tim has over 20 years of management experience in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. He’s been quoted in publications such as Fast Company, Forbes, and the HuffPost as well as profiled in the book, Magnificent Leadership. Connect on LinkedIn |Twitter


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