Ask Amy — Practical Advice for Supervisors: How Do I Lead My Team through Organizational Change, Part 1?

A Message from Amy Bosley, Vice President, Organizational Development and Human Resources

I don’t have to tell you that Valencia is undergoing tremendous organizational change. The signs are everywhere, but nothing makes it more clear for me than attending Big Meeting or Learning Day and being blown away by the number of new faces in the room. New faces are just the beginning as our work is evolving to include new campuses, new programs and new facilities to support our Centers for Accelerated Training. As such, over the next few months, my Ask Amy column, featured in The Supervisor Segment, will focus on leading through organizational change and will include best practices and ideas, context on the natural organizational life cycle and available resources to help you navigate in times of change.

Earlier this week, I shared a few thoughts on understanding organizational change with participants at Valencia’s Community College Conference on Learning Assessment. The gist of my conversation with the conference attendees was that organizational change is actually the sum of individual changes, hopefully organized and directed in a strategic and aligned way to meet our objectives. When we think about “organizational change,” it can feel abstract and like something that is being “done to us” rather than something over which we have control. Organizations are inanimate. They actually don’t do anything. It’s the people within the organization that give the institutional structure life and who feel impacted by change, sometimes in significant ways. Managing our own response to change is the most productive way to engage it.

Leading a team through organizational change adds a whole new dimension to our roles and responsibilities. Sometimes, it can be hard enough to manage ourselves through unanticipated or unwelcome changes. Having to guide others through can seem overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to consider as you lead your team through the “permanent white water” of life at Valencia College:

  1. College President Sandy Shugart was quoted once as saying that people don’t fear change, they fear loss. And the fear of loss (of control, of information, power, influence, stability, ability to meet expectations, etc.) is paralyzing. Our colleagues aren’t necessarily afraid of the actual change but of what it will mean to things they value. Consider what your colleagues have at risk when a change is introduced. How might you help structure the conversations about change to acknowledge what will change and reassure your colleagues about what won’t?
  2. The fundamental underpinning of leadership is trust. In order for your team members to give up what they hold dear and follow you into something new (wonderful, I’m sure … but new), they must have deep trust in you. Are you trustworthy? How do you know?
  3. Change is personal. It can’t be hurried along, and telling people to relax and not worry is a counterproductive strategy. Acknowledge that humans are messy, and change impacts each person in a unique way. Honor that.
  4. Transparency and communication are the hallmarks of successful organizational change, and it’s up to you as a leader to support and deliver timely and accurate messages. Tell your team what you know and what you can. Acknowledge what you can’t share and what you don’t know. Over-communicate in times of change.

As Valencia looks forward to four new executive leaders in 2019 and numerous new colleagues in various sectors of the College, our perspective on supporting colleagues through organizational change may need a bit of a tune up. Consider what your team is up against and seek to understand what loss is possible. Develop a plan for sharing information regularly and often. Examine your own self — are you trustworthy and acting in a way to support stability and perspective through a time when people can feel unmoored?

Leaders make such a difference in the lives of their team members and sensitizing yourself to the way your team experiences and manages through change will enable you to lead even more effectively. We won’t be out of the change posture for the foreseeable future — the water will be permanently white and the rapids will be strong. And we can develop competency in agility, allowing each of us to flow and adapt to whatever comes next.

Ask Amy” is designed to provide supervisors with guidance to successfully navigate opportunities and challenges in your daily work, as you create a culture for employee success within your teams. Each month, I, along with featured guest contributors, will address a question and offer practical solutions from which all supervisors can benefit.

If you would like to ask a question, simply email me with “Ask Amy” in the subject line. Submissions will be included anonymously in the Supervisor Segment and The Grove, and will be addressed monthly as they are received.

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