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If, like me, you reflect on the past year, you feel a punch in the gut. At the start of 2022, amid a nationwide workforce shortage, companies were scrambling to hire and trying to decide on a flexible work schedule that was right for them. With 2023 now upon us, many companies are bracing their sails for what is increasingly looking like an imminent downturn by tightening budgets and imposing hiring freezes.
Navigating change will be the anchor for leadership in 2023. As a leader, you already know that change is happening all the time. Economies oscillate between recession and expansion, stock prices rise and fall, innovative technologies and industries disrupt businesses, and so on.
The typical reaction to change can vary greatly depending on the person and the current environment. Some want to act now, while others wait. It’s only natural that as humans – and as leaders – we feel comfortable in our current state and find a beat for success, only to be thrown off course by change.
But what if we didn’t just react to disruptions, but turned them into opportunities for innovation and growth? Here are some key strategies I’ve found useful for successfully managing—and even embracing—change as 2023 ramps up.
See also: 7 ways to stay resilient in uncertain times
1. Reshape change as untapped potential
Seasoned leaders know that managing change will always be part of the job. It is critical that leaders recognize that change can be a good thing and reframe change as untapped opportunities for employees.
A few years ago, we made the proactive decision to turn our business model inside out and undertake a massive digital transformation. Things haven’t been going badly for us – we’ve been doing better as an organization than we’ve done in a long time. However, our CEO at the time felt there was a better way to serve our customers: by transitioning to a digital-first subscription model. And if that were true, it would be much better for our customers and our organization.
I was tasked with testing the model with a subset of vendors and customers, with the results quickly proving the idea viable. But it was not an easy decision as a public company to transform our business. We had to look at everything—what we sold, how we sold, how we engaged customers, the company’s financial model, how we recognized revenue, how we booked our sales, how we went to market, and more. In one way or another, every touch point of our company had to change.
Throughout the process, we knew that if we failed to win the hearts of our employees, this change would fail and the hoped-for benefits would not be realized. As leaders, it was our job to help everyone in the company understand that even if we didn’t have answers to all of the questions, ultimately this move was the right one for them and our customers.
We often believe that leadership is about having the “big idea”. But the idea is just the beginning. Leaders need a willingness to face reality, adapt, receive input, adapt again, and bring people along. That is the real management work.
See also: How to embrace change and build it into the foundation of your business
2. Create a plan for better change management
When it comes to change management, I’ve seen organizations of all sizes across the spectrum. Some leaders have done incredible things by developing change management plans that are agile and involve their entire workforce, while many others have not.
A change management plan is both a business resiliency and a safety net for employees. It’s a clear signal to employees that, as a leader, you know change is coming and can trust you to lead the company through what’s to come. Creating a great change management plan involves anticipating what changes you expect—and what you, as a company and your individual departments, will do to move forward.
3. Communicate your plan and lead by example
Start by examining your personal reactions to change. This will increase your empathy for your team. Take advantage of that empathy; It’s the key to helping your team persevere when the going gets tough.
Empathy plays an important role in communicating effectively with your team. Successful managers involve their employees directly in the change. A change management plan is nothing more than words on paper if you, the manager, do not communicate it and get approval from your employees.
Regardless of the size of your organization, one of the best ways to communicate your change management plan is to get employee feedback early in the process. Be a sounding board and listen as they share their concerns about the expected change. Meeting people where they are is important to successfully gaining their support for a change management plan. Try not to focus too much on the process – people make your teams, so be human.
Related topics: Do you want to make your workplace more human? Here are 4 foolproof ways.
4. Promote leadership at all levels
Once you’ve gotten approval and communicated with your employees, trust that your leaders will take the helm and start implementing the plan in their individual departments and teams. With every small win, your leaders will find the courage and motivation to keep moving forward with your change management plan. They will know that they can turn to you with concerns or direction, but they will also know that you trust them to make important decisions and drive the initiative forward.
Over the past decade, we’ve worked with hundreds of organizations to equip them with the skills not only to develop change management plans, but to create change-ready cultures where people move from fear and reluctance to change to Adopting and moving towards success through change.
As we look ahead to the months ahead, have no fear of what is to come. You’ve broken new ground before and you’ll do it again. Use these insights and work with your people to create a change management plan that’s right for your organization, and you’ll steadily sail — even through the storms — and come out ahead on the other side.