Leaders, I understand why you regularly say “change is hard” when you’re addressing your team about a switch in policy, procedure or practice. You’re trying to show that you’re thinking about them, that you’re putting yourself in their shoes and that you realize that the road ahead may not look the same as the road just traveled.
But you are not doing ANYONE any a favor by saying ‘change is hard’. In fact, it’s a disservice.
Webster defines change as the act of making or becoming different. There’s nothing positive or negative about it. It all depends on your perspective. For example:
- When our beloved Vikings shocked us by winning in the playoffs we cheered, even though it certainly wasn’t what us fans were used to seeing. Just the Saints (and some Packers fans) were complaining about it.
- When the seasons change from winter to spring, most of us Minnesotans aren’t complaining about how hard it is.
Prefacing a communication about change by implying how difficult it may be is probably the worst thing you can do. For example, let’s say you recently announced that your company is being acquired by a larger company. Chances are, your staff is mighty anxious. They are worried about losing their jobs or perhaps their autonomy or the company’s culture. Saying ‘change is hard’ just fuels this anxiety.
Sure, your intent is right. Workers need to know that they are more than just Monopoly houses being moved around a giant game board. During transitions, it’s important that leaders reassure their teams, show them that they care and that their work matters. In fact, this knowledge is what fuels productivity as well as creativity. That’s why experienced leaders bring in communication consultants during transitional times.
Leaders, however, also need to give workers some credit, and stop with the ‘change is hard’ rhetoric. Most professionals understand business. They understand that sometimes you need to sell a product line, restructure or merge to stay profitable.
Instead of saying ‘change is hard’, leaders need to explain the benefits of the change. They need to keep the emphasis on the positive, rather than repeating a pessimistic phrase and feigning understanding. They need to be clear that change can bring good. And most importantly, include specific ways that individuals can contribute. This positivity creates a culture that embraces change, and that makes transitions a lot easier.