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The Dotted Line Change Management = Stress Management

image by Chris Halderman / BY CC

Change Management = Stress Management

After seven very fruitful years at the helm, a pharmaceutical company’s chief executive officer announced she would retire in ten months. Immediately, the organization became unhinged. The corridors of the headquarters building grew bloody as executives fought to fortify their positions and increase their power, the rumor mill churned with speculation about lay-offs, and management used the impending change to defer every possible decision.
Although it officially was “business as usual” for those 300 days, just the anticipation of change induced erratic behaviors, loss of judgment, and a lack of foresightedness. As a result, seven years of solid growth started to backslide. Among employees, it later became known as “the lost year”. Shareholders agreed.
Not surprisingly, the announcement of the new CEO did little to calm anyone’s fears. Clearly, this period was only the first phase of a stressful process of transition and change for the company.
As Ron took the helm, he had ideas about what the corporate culture should be, a new strategy to implement, and overseas expansion on the agenda. Given the company’s historical performance and stellar reputation, Ron had not anticipated walking into this situation. What he didn’t know was that when pressure was low, the company hit its targets, but under stress, everything fell apart.
The only way for Ron to eliminate the stress his employees felt would have been to abandon some initiatives, slow the timelines, and reset expectations. These options were not viable. The situation was becoming dire as the competition began to catch up, a big money-making drug was soon going generic, and shareholders were growing restless. Ron was smart enough to realize that his challenge was to find a way to engage his employees and maximize their productivity even in the face of these incredible stressors.
In business, we are almost always under a degree of pressure. As seen with this company, leadership transitions are in fact harbingers of change. Likewise, rapid growth, continuous improvement initiatives, shifting market conditions, and many more every day occurrences in business usher in major changes. Failing to take into account the inherent stress triggered by these opportunities will doom your change projects from the beginning. Leaders should recognize the symptoms of a stressed-out workforce and instead of ignoring the problem, learn to engage and inspire outstanding work despite it.
While we can’t eliminate stress, we can increase our understanding of how it impacts our engagement and productivity at work. Stress is as toxic to our minds and bodies as it is to the work environment. Organizations under stress because of change are operating in a suboptimal mode at the exact moment when full engagement and productivity are required.
Stress doesn’t just change our habits and responses; it changes the way we work. We’d like to think that we are typically the best version of ourselves and that only the occasional stressors force us into becoming that less-than-ideal stressed-out version of ourselves. In truth, a layer of stress is always present. Thus, understanding how you work when you’re under stress is the key to successfully leading change, engaging employees, implementing a business strategy, and everything else written on the to do list sitting on your desk.
If you can learn to understand what stress does to your productivity and that of your team, then one of the major obstacles to change will be eliminated. I’d love to share with you how to do this – it’s easier than you think.

image by Krista Baltroka / BY CC

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