Surviving changing times

Gone through any major changes recently? Most merchants have, thanks to cost pressures and the grim economy. If your company has had some changes, are you keeping everyone aligned with you and on course? Are you keeping yourself motivated and focused?

As far as coping with everyone else, ongoing communication is the key. You need to keep persuading, keep acknowledging, keep the message coming to make sure the change sticks long enough for the benefits to be recognized generally.

The other side of communication counts just as much: asking for feedback and listening attentively to the participants’ concerns and preferences. You need to make sure that your acknowledgments and persuasions are relevant to the needs of the variety and range of people involved.

Provide constant reminders about the ways in which the present differs from the past, as a tool to highlight the reasons you needed to change in the first place. Emphasizing the improvements and enhancements will help point up the value and meaning of the change.

You can issue constant reminders about your vision of the future, such as the things we expect to happen, the results we hope to achieve, the rewards we’re striving for, and so on. Reminders should include and emphasize the new mission, vision and goals, as well as news about what’s coming up in the short term. These short-term updates help manage expectations and reduce disappointment.

Break it down to build it up

Identify which of the specific priorities you’re focusing on right now. Tell people what you’re working on and what it will take to get to the next stage, and how close you are to completion.

Break stages into smaller chunks so you get some results you can announce. Put a board with progress reports on the wall next to the lunchroom line; post current news in the rest room and invite comments; keep getting the word out.

Model the new, desirable behaviors that the plan specifies and point out that you did. Praise those who demonstrate those same new behaviors and point out that you did.

Even bosses get the blues

Managers need the same sense of direction that they’re supposed to be providing to their subordinates. Keep walking the walk as well as talking the talk to help reinforce the message even to your peers and your seniors.

If you find you’re just “yessing” people either above you or below you, or that you’re only paying lip service to your own stated goals, you may have lost focus or tired yourself out.

This is normal, because things may feel extremely disrupted, and general functioning can actually be worse for a while before it improves. I always estimate 18 months from the actual launch of the change before people get used to the fact that most things really have turned out better.

Just trying to tough your way through your own negative or exhausted feelings is usually counterproductive: Colleagues may not know exactly what’s wrong, but they’re likely to recognize that you’re no longer operating on the same level, and they may become even less collaborative and supportive themselves. Or, they might withdraw to old bad habits.

So how can you get back your resilience? Make sure you’re taking care of yourself, for one.

Set just a few priorities at a time so you can actually meet them. Break events into smaller chunks to be able to declare progress and feel satisfaction about accomplishment.

When you mess up — and you will — try to call your errors out as clearly as you would for anyone else’s wanderings from the new path. That’s the first step to getting back on track. And if you’re honest about your own failings, it will help you maintain your credibility with your staff.

Have compassion for yourself as well as for your coworkers. If you’re feeling a little testy, they probably are too, even if you’re not distressed by the same things. Things will get better, and the 18 months are ticking by.

Liz Kislik is president of consulting firm Liz Kislik Associates.