3 Ways to Reduce Stress by Making Change Predictable. Drop an anchor!

When the hurricane is coming people look for a place that will weather the storm; A strong structure that will not be moved. Without something stable to hold on to, fear takes center stage.

Your brain is tuned to notice change (bouncing balls, flying squirrels, etc.) to determine whether a change will be a threat. The same goes when you roll out a strategy shift, transformation effort or decide to repaint the office (I’m not joking).

As leaders, your job is to predict and tune into how people respond to change. If your project is generating chaos and the future looks out of control or unpredictable, stress can get unhealthy really fast. The grapevine becomes the main channel for information sharing with a big scoop of conjecture and fake news thrown in. Why?

People search for any scrap of data that will help make the future predictable. We naturally fear the unknown – what we cannot predict.

In a storm, the anchor keeps a boat from pulled away from a safe harbour. To dampen the stress levels and get people focused on day-to-day work again, drop some anchors that employees can hold onto when everything around seems to be shifting out of control.

1. Communication Cadence

Establish a clear rhythm of communications so people know when information is coming whether by newsletter (least effective), team update, or town hall.

2. Decision Milestones

For the more challenging questions (Will their be layoffs? Will I be moved to another role?), leaders likely don’t have all the answers at the beginning. Tell people when they can expect to have clear answers. If you’re not sure, tell them the quarter or month when you anticipate have more details.

3. Continuity

I’ve tucked myself into a new car only to realize I’ve forgotten how to drive manual. As I try to adjust to so much ‘newness’, suddenly my feet don’t work at all! Because we are geared to focus on change and threats, our brains tell us that EVERYTHING is changing. We get overwhelmed. We catastrophize. Remind people of what is NOT CHANGING. Take your pick:

  • Company’s position in the market (We are solid. This change will help cement that position.)
  • Leadership (Same great people are leading from the front!)
  • Strategy (We have not changed direction.)
  • Vision, Mission and Values (The nature of the company is unchanged.)
  • Required roles and tasks (We still need people to make widgets.)
  • Required skills that employees possess (You’re more prepared than you think!)

People definitely want to know what’s changing. They want the details. When the response is fear and stress, give them solid anchors to hold onto. Make their future a bit more predictable.

Thoughtfully yours,

Jeff Skipper

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Jeff Skipper
Jeff Skipper is an expert in accelerating change. Clients such as Shell, Goldman Sachs and The Salvation Army have engaged him to achieve dramatic results during strategic transformation by wrapping complex change in motivating mission. He has been quoted in Fast Company, Forbes and HP’s enterprise.nxt. Jeff holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and is a Certified Change Management Professional.