Five keys to leading your team through change

Several years ago, I shepherded Cleveland Rape Crisis Center through a rebranding process, complete with a new logo, new colors and a new tagline: Change starts here. The phrase resonated with our clients — survivors of sexual assault who are motivated to change how they are feeling. The phrase also resonated with our work to change the way society thinks about sexual violence.

We felt so strongly about this tagline as a snapshot of our mission that we printed it in big bold letters in the reception area of each of our offices. Change starts here. It’s typically the first thing someone sees when they walk through our doors.

Today, what I see clearly in hindsight is how much that phrase, “Change starts here,” needed to resonate with me as a leader and internally with our employees as we navigated complex organizational changes headed our way. Almost overnight, the #MeToo movement dramatically increased the demand for our services. Our annual budget and employee count more than doubled, and evolving technology required us to rethink our operations from top to bottom.

Managing change is one of the most important skills for a leader to develop. 

Here’s what I’ve learned along our journey.

1. Slow down to go fast. Change may be welcomed by employees, or it may be resisted at every turn. Either way, it helps to slow down to let people know that change is coming, be transparent about why it’s happening and create an environment where they feel empowered and supported to do their best work.

2. Assess readiness. People either change because they have to or because they want to — and it’s a lot easier to change if they want to. Stopping to evaluate the team’s readiness to shift creates the foundation for success. Slowing down to understand the vast range of perspectives that exist within the organization helps us understand what will motivate teams to embrace change.

3. Communicate consistently. Communication is a two-way street, and it’s not enough to simply tell people what to do. Communication involves listening empathetically, which also creates opportunities to answer questions or address concerns.

4. Celebrate the small wins. Acknowledging the people and teams who do great work is rewarding for those who are celebrated and motivating for those who are watching.

5. Think progress, not perfection. Not a single change initiative at Cleveland Rape Crisis Center has been executed with perfection. In fact, we think of our work as two steps forward and often one step back. The step back can be frustrating and demoralizing. We have to remind ourselves that making mistakes — as long as we learn from them — helps us get even better.

We can’t always predict what environmental or organizational changes may be looming in our future, but we can work every day to create a culture that embraces change. While our front lobby is branded with “Change starts here,” the door to my office reads: Don’t be afraid of change. Be afraid of not changing.

Sondra Miller is president and CEO at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center