In our last blog, Rick and I introduced the concept that change resilience is important for project team members and stakeholders in Dynamic Change projects. This blog dives deeper into change resilience.

Tip #5 – Hone your soft skills, you’ll need them!– Build change resilience in the organization and use soft skills alongside the change tactics.

Like sailing into a storm without knowing the size of the wave about to hit you, project team members are the skilled sailors who navigate the waves and guide the passengers – the stakeholders – safely through them. But, accomplished sailors need more than skills to complete their journey, they also need fortitude to endure the unexpected perils along the way.

We’re trying not to be overly dramatic, but Rick and I can attest that as sure as storms create waves, Dynamic Change projects create emotional ups and downs that can rock the project. Like sailors, change managers and project teams need fortitude – change resiliency, as we like to call it – in addition to their change management skills.

Rick and I can attest that as sure as storms create waves, Dynamic Change projects create emotional ups and downs that can rock the project.

Change managers use change tactics as tools to move through and manage change. These tools require basic but critical skills including project management, organization, problem solving, collaboration, oral/written communication and others.

Change resilience is different. It is the emotional stamina to persevere, spring back, and quickly recover from unexpected change. It’s what prevents us from quitting or aborting the change effort. Change resilience is needed to adapt to shifts in project direction, loss of a sponsor or advocate, cuts in budgets (we rarely get more money), changes in scope or schedule, or unpredictable consequences from external events. Without this resiliency, the project team and stakeholders become change fatigued and just plain worn out. Sometimes, they simply cannot muster the energy to get through the project.

The Value of Soft Skills

The ups and down that rock Dynamic Change projects can stress even the strongest of relationships. Can you sense when a team member is overwhelmed and then discuss the situation with him? Can you recognize and then help reduce tension in a meeting? Can you tell a co-worker she is being too controlling? Or discuss with your team lead that his go-forward plan is unrealistic, or suggest to a sponsor that she is not fulfilling her responsibilities?

These are not easy conversations, but they are dimensions of change resilience, and they require us to hone our emotional intelligence (EI)skills. EI is the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions as well as recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others. By cultivating our EI, we as change managers and team members can become practiced brokers of honest conversations. We can become better listener and facilitators who build and maintain trusted relationships that enable stakeholders to move through dynamic change.

By cultivating our emotional intelligence skills,
we as change managers and team members can become practiced brokers of honest conversations.

Using our soft skills in conjunction with our change tactics, we can help steer the project, stakeholders, and the organization forward with resilience. Leaders, project members and change managers can all play a part in building change resilience, whether as facilitators or role models.

Here are some tips that may help:

  1. Play the part of problem solver.

As leaders, you have the ability to see broader perspectives and lift others out of the day-to-day grind to explore alternatives or solve problems. Use this to the team’s advantage and help them think of ideas to progress change. Engage in two-way conversations and team discussions to help team members problem solve.

  1. Be role models and “live” the behaviors you and the team need to progress change.

Great project managers and leaders have the unique ability to deal with the messiness of dynamic and shifting priorities. That’s why you’re leaders and project managers! Use this talent to manage through and demonstrate for others how to accept uncertainties and adapt to the constant change of change (as long as you ultimately have a goal).

  1. Facilitate collaboration between sponsors, project members, and business stakeholders.

Put your change management hat on and facilitate sessions to bring the stakeholders together where they can work through the conflicts and plan actions to address the solution or acknowledge the risks together. Use these as moments to build trust in the team. Help team members understand they’re not in it alone.

  1. Listen and speak truthfully about the ambiguity.

Don’t brush ambiguity under the carpet or disguise it. Listen to the frustrations and issues. Speak honestly when you don’t have an immediate answer or when more time is needed to develop a solution.

  1. Show confidence and use the strength of others.

Often change managers try to do everything themselves. However, recognizing that change is not something that can be done to someone else and knowing that the project team is on your side, use the strengths and talents of others to help progress the change. This shows the level of confidence you have in your team and builds trust.

Janet’s Story:

These days, change projects run at a rapid rate. Approaches require a learn-and-adjust mentality (see Dynamic Change.) I find it common for sponsors, project members and business stakeholders to struggle to align on future state requirements and solutions. Contributing to the challenge, business functions are often siloed, and project teams are divided by their differing needs. Establishing trust is difficult in this environment. Project members and business stakeholders leave each day with a sense of confusion and defeat causing them to believe there is a good chance of failure. It can seem there is no way out of this emotionally draining situation.

I remember on a recent project, our change team would arrive each day with a renewed determination to find a solution, but (of course) there wasn’t one solution. The situation required a lot of collaborating, trial and error, planning and patience. Everything turned around when the project leaders acknowledged this and made a conscious decision (after many meetings and discussion) to break the project into smaller, more manageable parts.

We also made changes in how we operated as a team. We initiated team stand-ups to share issues, risks and learnings in near real-time. We purposefully built cross-functional relationships to help us drive solutions and build trust.

It was powerful to see how the team appreciated the changes and reacted to the positive shift in momentum.

Series Wrap-Up

As Rick and I have talked throughout this blog series, Dynamic Change doesn’t always come with the perfect plan. It’s uncomfortable for leaders, project members, and business stakeholders. We all deal with it differently and we all manage the emotions of it differently.

But certain approaches are known to succeed. Start by defining how the team is going to adjust to change and uncertainty. Sustain momentum by reinforcing the right behaviors through frequent reflection on project progress and how the team’s processes for engagement, conflict management, and adaptation are working. Make any needed changes.

Dynamic Change projects can be very rewarding and motivating when you are able to understand and accept the nature of them. We can conquer big waves of change and arrive at the destination we envisioned, ready for a celebration and our next journey.

[1] Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a concept formulated in 1990 by John Mayer / Peter Salovey and popularized by Dan Goleman in his 1995 book of the same name.