Do women and men respond differently to change?


TAs a leader in today’s business environment, you may wonder, “Do men and women respond differently to change?” Before answering, consider the following statement by Greek philosopher Heraclitus:

“You never step in the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.”

As the Greeks had to handle change, so do leaders today. Change is a constant. It’s here to stay. Understanding that concept allows us to view change from a more neutral position.

Smart leaders know that all change doesn’t have to be embraced. Before deciding, take time to understand it. How will it affect the core values of your organization? While core values should remain constant, the tactics of how they are applied can and should change. Here is an example.

When I worked for Southwest Airlines a group proposed to bring a bullet train into the Dallas-Houston market. This would have directly impacted one of the most profitable routes that Southwest was flying. As employees began to react negatively, I remember then-CEO Herb Kelleher saying, “Let’s do a study to see if taking passengers by train is more profitable than by airplane.”

“Why would we do that?” we responded. “Aren’t we in the airline business?”

“Actually, we’re in the transportation business,” he said. “If it makes more sense for us to take people from point A to point B by train, wouldn’t we want to do that? It wouldn’t change the core of who we are as a company. We are a customer service company run by great employees. That wouldn’t change if we drove trains versus airplanes.”

And we got it. After the study was commissioned we realized that it was not a profitable venture so we abandoned the idea. But his viewpoint stuck with me. You need to consider all aspects of the change before making up your mind.

Since change is here to stay, as a leader, ask the following questions:

  • How prepared are you to handle change?
  • What can you do to ensure your workforce understands and embraces change?
  • With women comprising 47 percent of the workforce, should you consider gender when thinking about communicating and implementing change?

Here’s six proven tactics I share with leaders to help them with change.

Know how you as a leader personally handle change. Do you love or resist change? Your employees will follow your lead. If you’re not sure, ask your family and friends. They know you better than anyone and they will be honest.

As a team, take professional assessments like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and/or Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. I like these two assessments because both address change.

Before making any change, gather employees into a focus group to explain the change and get their opinions. You’ll get a chance to not only get their input, but to find “change agents” within that group that can help you explain the change to other employees.

Don’t rush change. Pre-planning the communication is critical. The words you use, the reasoning behind it and the benefits of it must be explained. Pay special attention to your wording. Every culture has a unique language. For employees to fully understand the change, use that language.

Don’t run afoul of the law. Understand what laws are in place to protect specific genders and cultures before implementing any change.

Handling change is a teachable skill. There are a lot of good classes for leaders. Find one and learn from the experts.

So, to the question of “Do men and women respond differently to change?” I would posit that communicating change is not about tailoring to gender. Instead, I advise leaders to consider approaching change as gender-neutral. I’ve worked in male-dominated industries for years and as a female, don’t feel that reaction to change is gender specific. Change is change.

As a leader you must learn to accept that change is a constant. Do your homework and, once you decide to implement change in your organization, use the tips mentioned above. Whether managing men or women, they will help you maneuver successfully through the gauntlet of change.

Lorraine Grubbs recently co-authored “Beyond the Executive Comfort Zone: Outrageous Tactics to Ignite Individual Performance” (www.executivecomfortzone.com). She is president of the consulting firm Lessons in Loyalty. As a former 15-year executive with Southwest Airlines, she takes principles and practices she helped develop to companies that strive for better employee engagement and loyalty.