Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Anticipating and Handling Employee Fears of Change

with 17 comments

Before managers can successfully lead their organizational units through a transformational change, they must overcome existing general fears and negative attitudes. Most of these fears and attitudes have been formed over the past two decades by actions and decisions organizations have made that have detrimentally affected individual employees.

From the 1980s on, businesses have faced the greatest overall restructuring since the Industrial Revolution. The depth and scope of this restructuring has been painful. Many employees have experienced downsizing, layoffs and a host of management fads, including the chaos, uncertainty and heightened frustration of reengineering. The methods used often resulted in covering and masking a number of management actions and mistakes.

Pain was further increased by the visible unfairness and callousness of many employee layoffs. The result left for managers to deal with is an employee mindset that translates into a lack of willingness to contribute personal initiative and productive work. This reflects itself in less effective teaming efforts and a lower output of quality decisions and products, as well as decreasing the loyalty leaders require from their unit members to lead their organization through the ongoing transformational process.

This is important for managers to grasp because organizations competing in the twenty-first century need the willing help and assistance of intelligent, motivated, collaborative and enterprising employees. This presents leaders with a real challenge: they must first work with their employees to overcome the problems and sentiments of past organizational actions before moving forward into an active transformation. Organizational stakeholders and investors who want to see increased results and overall improvement further complicate the process.

The International Survey Research Corporation, which tracks employee satisfaction for Fortune 1000 companies, reported that since 1989 employees:

  • Feel that management fails to provide clear direction.
  • Do not believe what management says.
  • Are less sure about keeping their jobs.
  • Worry about their company’s future.
  • Fear being laid off.
  • Feel overall morale is lower.

These facts frame the starting point defining where many leaders find themselves in the face of transformational change in their organizations. While time heals all wounds, most managers do not have this luxury in the face of the chaotic events and issues.

The most practical answer to overcoming these fears and attitudes is increasing employee empowerment. However, this is not likely to work without the total commitment of everyone holding a leadership position. Leadership can come from the ranks of senior managers or from organizational unit and team leaders. Any major transition will not work without a commitment from each level.

In addition to employee empowerment, managers need to establish working teams to tackle ongoing problems and concerns. It is better to establish multiple teams than to create one involving every employee in the organizational unit; the best workable size is between five and six members. In many instances, teams can work on the same problems. This furnishes a method of developing multiple solutions and alternatives. A collaborative team can be established to select the best solution and then assign specific aspects of it to each team to address and implement.

Employing a team approach demands specific leadership skills, including:

  • Goal setting
  • Planning
  • Effective follow up procedures

If managers fail to develop one of these three skills or eliminate them from their leadership contributions, the team will break down.

Managers furthermore cannot assume that if they simply form a team, participants will decipher what needs to be done and how things need to be accomplished. They must train unit members in working together in teams, focusing on the important issues, dealing with other teammates, and getting results.

In order for this training to be successful, managers must make sure the following team elements are adhered to, including:

  • Clarity of goals
  • Good communications
  • Effective dissemination of business objectives so the team understands how it fits into the general business plan
  • An effective process to guide and direct the actions of the team

While empowerment and an effective team approach will not immediately resolve many of the nagging employee problems and attitudes a manager must actively deal with, it does establish a foundation for improved performance and participation. As leaders initially start the process, they will need to develop strategies to cope with and address the emotional baggage issues brought to the table by their employees. They must allow the venting of frustrations and criticisms, then eliminate each of these issues in turn until full participation is achieved.

Excerpt: Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 16.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about assisting employees deal with the realities of change, refer to The Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.
Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreward Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

17 Responses

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  1. Thank you for this well written blog. All of those training ideas are very useful and Organisations need to be genuinely more trustworthy. People know when they are getting packaging as opposed to substance.


    April 18, 2012 at 5:17 am

  2. Hi all,

    My thought is that the only way to avoid the ‘human hurdles’ thrown up by the regular hand-grenades, or “change initiatives’ brought on by the way things are, is to create, nurture and sustain a business and human environment where ‘evolution’, not change, is embraced as the’ constant and only state of reality.

    Difficult as it may appear, constant evolution is the only real and indisputable aspect of life, business or personal.

    Life in all it’s forms and aspects evolves all the time, and nothing ever stands still; so the best way to deal with it is to accept it and build, rather than debate and think we can stop it.

    Please don’t misunderstand and think it’s ok for him, he’s somehow, ‘the proof of the pudding’, because I’m not. I often just stare into space and wish things would stop for a while… but I accept that the the truth is they never will. The arrow of time always flies forwards, never backwards.

    I guess we’ll all just have to catch our breath on the run!


    Anthony Etherton

    April 18, 2012 at 5:59 am

  3. Thanks very much for this article. This is a tricky subject many mangers avoid to talk about. My own experience shows that in times of uncertainty it’s most about communication, communication and communication. This is the decisive action a manger must take in such a situation. People are clever enough to understand the issues but are not accepting lack of communication. One big mistake managers are making is not to communicate when there are no news. This is the time when the rumour mill starts and then productivity decreases alongside with all the other unwelcome side effects. Dealing with employee fear through communication incl. communicating about one’s own fear can be a winner in difficult situations and employees will appreciate this very much.

  4. Good article.. Thanks. I agree that all this is important – especially the point about communication. But I also wonder how much of the ‘fear’ actually starts with managers themselves. The mood and the general culture (whether a big or small organisation) starts with the leaders. If they appear stressed, frightened or concerned, and are also not communicating, then watch out. Leaders too often believe that they need to sort out all those ‘big issues’ themselves and not ‘worry the workforce’. But, that is exactly what they are doing. Better to be open and honest. Hold sessions, talk-backs, open forums (whatever works for your organisation), and allow everyone to have a say. You may actually learn something, and it may not be what you thought (or assumed) people were worried about. And, at the same time it will ally fears, not just of the people, but also of the management and leaders.


    April 26, 2012 at 4:38 am

  5. […] Anticipating and Handling Employee Fears of Change « Leaders to Leader. […]

  6. Hi Mike,

    This is a great article that covers many excellent points. Employee empowerment is definitely a key part. Employeed are less loyal to the organization these days. Managers need to establish a culture of team-oriented goals to tackle ongoing problems and concerns.

    Employees needed to be valued and felt belong to the workplace. Great leaders value people, develop great relationships and lead with a clear team focus.

    True leaders are courageous and inspirational.

    Viola Tam

    Viola Tam

    May 22, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    • Viola<

      You are absolutely right. Great leaders go out of their way to value, motivate and inspire their employees.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Bednarz, Timothy

      May 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

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