A number of years ago, while serving as an appointed planning commissioner for my hometown, the community rallied against the proposed development of a hotel in the downtown area. By all accounts, the hotel should have been an incredible value add to the community from its engaging design aesthetic, the draw of new visitors, as well as the cash flow that would support community needs and initiatives. Ultimately the demise of this development came down to a question that resonated throughout the ranks of those in disapproval, “what will this do to our community? How will this change the atmosphere of the town?”

Little did they know that by denying this project the community had made a choice to allow the community to change organically with no clear directive or action on how to improve. In the twenty years prior to the denial of the hotel, ten buildings in the downtown area had been torn down with no buildings built in the meantime. A flux of vagrants, gangs, and drugs dissuaded evening visitors diminishing local safety as well as the sustainability of local businesses.

In attempting to protect the community from what they perceived as the wrong decision, residents had become their own undoing by unknowingly allowing decisions to be made for them. In life and business, change is inevitable. The world of business is full of stories about once-great companies that could not adapt and change as needed to new business realities.

Similar to the concerns of the residents within my hometown, business decisions leading to change can evoke a certain level of concern and anxiety as employees face the unknown. As this is the case, leaders must help their employees manage these considerations in a fruitful and empowering manner.

The following are five strategies leaders can use for managing the fear of change:

  1. Enroll Employees in a Designed Future

Employees should see the value of the change before taking action. Conveying what about the desirable future is better than the current reality should serve as a launching point. Otherwise, efforts will either be lackluster, actions will be in service of an unclear future, or they will create their own potentially misaligned future.

  1. Be Intentional with what is Rewarded and Recognized

Change begets change and that is no different when considering what will motivate employees. The uncertainty of change may arise concern and can be seen as painful while transitioning from what has become the modus operandi for the organization. Rewarding employee performance enables change to be viewed as the desired way of working, as long as it’s in service of the designed future.

  1. Drive a Single Message Throughout the Organization

Ensure the desired change and its intended outcomes have been clearly articulated throughout the organization. Listen to employees for what is said and not said. Clean up the details within those conversations as necessary. Address considerations throughout the ranks so as to mitigate misinformation and disempowerment. Offer access to leadership throughout the change to address concerns and potential pitfalls that may arise.

  1. Develop & Hone Needed Skillsets

Amongst the considerations that may emerge for employees is a concern revolving around one’s ability to perform within the new change environment. This fear may or may not be valid. Whatever the case, providing training and development for the team offers the peace of mind employees can rely upon to be able to transition successfully.

  1. Walk the Talk

There are things more troubling for employees than to learn that leadership is not “walking the talk.” This breeds cynicism and heightens employee concerns that the advocated change will not be for the better. If a leader doesn’t believe in the change enough to implement the required behaviors themselves, then why would others follow suit? Demonstrate through a powerful example of leadership the value of the change and a willingness to own what is required of others.

Change is inevitable and the fear of the unknown can be unsettling. The continuing state of constant change means leaders in this new era must know how to manage the fears of their employees successfully.

Leaders have a much better chance of managing the concerns and considerations that come with a change effort when they sell a desirable future, be intentional with rewards and recognitions, drive messaging throughout the organization, develop skillsets, and walk the talk.

As for my hometown, the ailments of the past have not continued into the future. Through strong leadership, the city followed the above steps and, in spite of the pandemic, have become creative in ensuring a thriving downtown business district succeeds…without a hotel.


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