We’ve all been dealing with change for the past two years with the COVID-19 pandemic. If we weren’t working from home before, now we’re used to it. If we loved working from home, we got a great excuse to make it permanent. Many of us had to deal with kids in online school, quarantines, and maybe even sickness or death in our families. As we’ve learned, change is inevitable.
How have you reacted to change?
In addition to the pandemic, I’ve been thinking about change more recently because Regions Bank acquired EnerBank in late 2021. As I’ve dealt with the change of EnerBank ownership and have seen how my colleagues have reacted to change during this process, I’ve outlined some lessons learned from dealing with change in your life and your profession.
Dealing with changes – for yourself
Let’s look at dealing with change from your perspective. The critical aspect I follow is to manage expectations. It’s very easy to react negatively to the situation and think, “This is going to be horrible.” Control the negative chatter in your mind. Most likely, it won’t be as bad as you can imagine. On the other hand, don’t go the opposite direction and stick your head in the sand, claiming, “It is what it is. I won’t pay attention to it, because I can’t do anything about it.”
I try to create balance—a middle-of-the-road perspective—analyzing what I can control and what I can’t. I list things that are under my control and the things that aren’t. At a minimum, you can control your attitude. A positive attitude can go a long way, not just for your internal mindset but also for others, especially your new bosses. Their noticing of your good—or bad—attitude might determine your future with the new situation.
Do a personal SWOT analysis
After the acquisition was announced, we had our last meeting with our board of directors. We asked them for advice on how to go forward after the merger. One of the board members encouraged us to do a personal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. Most companies do that every year. We should too. Ask yourself: What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What are the opportunities and threats? In our situation, we were heading to a company where nobody knew much about us.
As you go into a new situation, it’s essential to know yourself. When you know what you do well and don’t do well, you can gravitate toward opportunities to show your strengths and fix some of your weaknesses.
Change is an opportunity to learn
One way to deal with change is to look at it as an opportunity to learn. Even with a negative change, there’s opportunity. You might not enjoy it, but it’s an opportunity to learn something—maybe you can learn a new skill or behavior. You might find out you’re really good at something you never expected.
Dealing with change in the organization
In working with our employees, the board members told us to think about how we’ll handle change, because our teams are going to look to us and follow our example. If we have fear in our eyes, they’ll see it. Or if we make a passive-aggressive comment, they’ll pick up on it. They will look at everything we say, and how we say it and communicate it to our staff. It impacts how they’ll react to change.
In my situation, I have several VPs that report to me. So I’ve tried to model how they should communicate to their teams. As I handle change proactively, they’ll do the same. If I don’t, it will put fear into their hearts, they’ll communicate that to their teams, and we’ll have chaos.
As a manager, be honest
In managing your employees and especially your managers, honesty is most important. You’ve already built up credibility with your team. Conduct open communication and empathize with nervous employees. If it feels like you’re not being forthright or honest for some reason, credibility dies.
When the merger was announced, I immediately met with my team and laid out what I knew. I also reiterated that I realized the announcement was a shock to them. I asked my managers to think about how their employees felt, because they’ll look to them as an example of how to handle the news.
One strategy Regions Bank implemented was to create “change champions.” Management selected employees who were not managers to be part of the team that would receive information about the transition, such as employee policies or benefits. Their job was to help their team members understand the changes, provide accurate information and correct rumors.
The strategy was a much more powerful and effective communications program than having all information come from the top down. You expect your manager to be positive about a new program, but when your coworker can be optimistic too, it makes a more substantial impact.
The CEO’s example and message
I appreciate the example of our CEO regarding change. During the period between the announcement and the deal’s close, pockets of employees promoted uncertainty. They were upset about not knowing the answers to details none of us knew. Our CEO monitored this carefully, and at the right moment, he sent an email to all employees showing empathy and effective leadership. In the email, he said he understood that people were upset that we didn’t know the answers to everything right away. He also told employees they can make a choice: either have a positive attitude or not. He reiterated that he believed the acquisition would be good for the bank. And, if it’s good for the bank, it will be good for employees, because it will create more opportunities. If employees have a negative attitude, they will most likely have a negative experience with the new company. He showed honesty and outstanding leadership.
After his email, the negative chatter diminished very quickly.
Change is inevitable—in our lives and our profession. We can all learn how to handle change better, especially if we work at it. A lot has changed over the past two years, and more change will come. Change will turn into opportunity as we manage our expectations, maintain a positive attitude, and understand our strengths and weaknesses. May you take the next change in your life or business and make it a good opportunity for you to learn and grow.