Balancing the change: How PMs should lead during turbulent times

Change is many things. It’s a complicated process, rarely linear in its evolution, from inception to implementation and beyond. It can be messy, confusing, unexpected and, this one’s for sure, it’s unavoidable. Whether change comes along with new leadership, is ushered in by new technologies, is necessitated by new team members or a reorganization of your team, change is happening whether you like it or not. 

As a PM you’ll have to cope with uncharted waters at some point in your career. 

And as a leader, you will need to act like a firefighter, battling fires inside and outside of your team, to ensure that your people are secure. To accomplish all this, you will need to set clear goals, while also staying hyper-aware of how daily activities may change for you and your team. In this post, we will go through how you can manage and facilitate change effectively within your organization. 

Have a plan

Management makes a system work. It helps you do what you know how to do. Leadership builds systems or transforms old ones.” ― John P. Kotter, Leading Change 

Despite your best efforts, implementing change can be pretty tricky. To kick start the process with the best chances for success, you need to have a solid plan in place to guide you and your team. You should try to identify the starting point, the route you’ll take, and the destination. It is critical for a Project Manager to build a plan that will address how the change will affect her and her team, along with the process that everyone needs to follow. Set measurable success metrics for each step of the process. Clarify the goals and identify the focus of your team, so everyone is on the same page and you can effectively lead the endeavor. As a PM you need to have a clear vision of the promised land that comes at the end of the journey, describe it to your team and get everyone on board. It’s a great idea to keep a list of the key priorities that you and your team need to address first. That way, you can revisit them everytime one of you is not sure of what is going to happen next.

Communicate the change

“Powerful and sustained change requires constant communication, not only throughout the rollout but after the major elements of the plan are in place. The more kinds of communication employed, the more effective they are.” – DeAnne Aguirre

When everything is changing, clear communication is one of the main ingredients for corporate success. No matter how strong the culture is in your organization, people adapt to change if you are able to address important questions such as their work security and their future in the company. As a Project Manager, you will need to design a communication strategy that you should iterate often based on the feedback you receive from your team and other stakeholders.

Make sure that everyone within your team is aware of the situation that exists today and the next steps. Talking about developments and goals clearly and early to all team members is a good way to make sure everyone is aligned with what is happening. In difficult times, people need to feel secure, understand the bigger picture and see their personal chances of success. When discussing with your team, show empathy, provide direction, guidance and strive to understand their feelings. Foster an environment in which they are inclined to share their own ideas, without fear. The real contribution of your role lies in the ability to help the people around you and their dynamics, not the change itself. 

Use Empathy

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Emotional intelligence plays an important role in cultivating long-lasting relationships with your team. As a PM, you will need to cultivate a culture that gives the opportunity to members to express their problems openly. Listen carefully to their concerns, how they are dealing with the change and show compassion and understanding. It is easy to jump to a conclusion and quickly respond as you listen to someone. The key is to practice active listening without judgment and to make team members feel respected and understood. If a person has confided in you with a problem, follow up to see how they are doing and whether there is something you can do. Reduce the Analysis Paralysis that may occur. As humans, when dealing with problems we have a tendency to over analyse them which then leads to numbness. Guide your team with empathy to a specific goal that they feel familiar with. And do not forget, get regular feedback to ensure that all of the team is included and on board with your approach. 

Share the success 

“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” – Thomas Jefferson

Under times of pressure and change, leaders need to celebrate the wins that their people achieve. As a PM, you need to remind your team that their contribution is critical to the process. Celebrate small wins with them, every chance you can. 

Change doesn’t come easy to almost anybody. But that doesn’t mean that it needs to disrupt the great work that your team does and the relationships that they’ve built. Remember, in turbulent times, PMs need to: 

  • Embrace change and make a solid plan 
  • Communicate and listen to their team 
  • Show compassion and understanding 
  • Celebrate small wins

Alexia Vazoura

Product Manager @ Orfium