By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |
During 2020, we have seen so much change that it is almost impossible to keep up. However, in reality, change has been happening for a long time before this year. This is true in every industry and our beloved sports industry is no exception. In many ways, we have been like boiling frogs and not seen a lot of it but that does not mean that it has not happened. Change happens whether we like it or not and no matter how much we resist it. Change is truly inevitable and an essential part of all management. Every manager must be a change manager.
To manage well through change, managers must learn to be sensitive to changes and communicate them consistently and constantly. Communication really is the main key to managing change. It requires an understanding of the way change impacts people. People react emotionally and when they do, they often go on a survival mode. That is, they tend to become stressed out and shift their focus on the lower level needs. Managers need to have sufficient emotional intelligence and psychological mindedness to recognize this. Communication must reflect this understanding and sensitivity.
The global pandemic has forced people to focus on their survival and to consider their safety. This causes productivity losses and performance deficiencies. It is very difficult for employees to focus on their work tasks when they are concerned about the health of their loved ones and their own. With this stress and anxiety, changes around them become even more difficult to deal with than in less difficult circumstances. When people feel this way, they tend to become protective of their own jobs and engage in “turf wars.” They tend to become defensive and try to deflect blame. The lack of social interaction caused by social distancing measures does not make this any easier. In addition, the lack of nonverbal cues caused by mask wearing causes communication failures. So, if communication is the key to change management, it becomes even more so in the middle of the current environment. Emails and Zoom meetings are not enough to fill the void left by the lack of face-to-face human interaction.
When the world is changing around us, we need organization and structure. Managers can help employees by providing a sense of stability by maintaining order. During the times of crisis, managers must maintain “cool head and warm heart.” That is, enforce the organizational policies in a composed manner, while allowing certain flexibility to demonstrate care for people. It is a delicate balance to be stern and supportive at the same time. Yet, this is what successful change managers and leaders do. They have vision and inspire, and also stabilize and normalize at the same time. Change management requires a steady hand. It also requires an ability to use personal power forms of referent and expert power. Relying on coercive and positional power alone does not work in the times of change. A good command of influence tactics is also a plus when managing change. After all, change management is a process of influencing and persuading people to trust that they can get through the change. It requires trust and optimism, and a manager who can cultivate the required organizational culture. Since change is constant, all management is, therefore, change management.
Dr. Tomi Wahlström is the Provost at the United States Sports Academy.