Listen to employees, communicate strategically, embrace a growth mindset, and eliminate drama to help employees let go of negativity and thrive through change.
As with many of you, change is constantly on my mind. And rightfully so. The COVID-19 pandemic, a rapidly increasing backlog, escalating costs, and staff shortages have compelled us to change, adapt, and get creative in ways we never imagined. As company leaders, our stress is at an all-time high. My company, CORE, was no exception in 2020 and 2021. In addition to the implications of COVID-19 and pivoting to a remote workforce, we constructed and moved into two new offices, executed a brand refresh and new website (shameless plug for liveyourCORE.com), hired more than 20 employees, revamped our HR process, and implemented significant EOS organizational changes. I could keep going! When we came back to the office full-time in June of 2021, many of our team members felt like they had stepped into an entirely new world.
Change is hard. Most in our industry don’t like it. New people, places, brands, managers, and procedures can invoke feelings of anxiety, stress, and loss of control. But pushing strategic change is critical to growing and sustaining a successful company, especially in times of uncertainty and chaos. Mark Zweig’s recent article in The Zweig Letter encouraged “change for the sake of change,” and I couldn’t agree more. As a culture-driven organization, we’ve looked for ways to inspire our team members to thrive through change instead of just surviving it. While we haven’t been perfect in that pursuit, we’ve learned a few lessons along the way that we’d like to share:
Listen. Think about this Simon Sinek quote: “Hearing is listening to what is said. Listening is hearing what isn’t said.”
We work with some of the most intelligent and innovative people in the industry. We look to them to understand problems, brainstorm creative solutions, and improve our ideas. However, two-way communication can be a struggle. At CORE, we constantly ask for feedback in many forms, including our semi-annual employee surveys, feedback from our All-CORE meetings, creating issues in our EOS L10 meetings, and informal one-on-one conversations. Sometimes the feedback is brutal. I’ve learned to take the good with the bad and use it constructively to fuel meaningful change, not just within me but within our leadership teams as well. But, we have to keep our eyes on the long-term vision. Reacting without understanding and purpose can be trouble.
The day that CORE opened its doors, I set a precedent for our team: “Don’t complain about a problem. Speak up and be part of the solution to fix it.” That precedent set eight years ago is still my mantra today, and it has served CORE well. Listening to and empowering employees to speak up and be part of the solution is a powerful tool that gets more people invested and on board with the change.
- Communicate strategically. It goes without saying that any change should be communicated and over-communicated, and then communicated again. And then communicated again! It never stops. But how intentional are we with packaging the right message to the right people at the right time? A mass email, Teams blast, or post on the company intranet may be an easy way to reach the masses and outline the details, but it isn’t exactly impactful. Communication about change must come in layers. For us, frequent All-CORE meetings effectively deliver the “why” behind any change, dispel rumors, connect the possibilities, and help fill in the gaps. And, it allows our employees to ask questions on the spot. Our management and team EOS L10 meetings incorporate company or personal headlines and cascading messages to ensure our employees see and hear messages more than once. We’ve also utilized targeted one-on-one conversations before and after the change happens. Identifying who’s onboard helps us coach, get key players into alignment, alleviate uncertainty, and create excitement around the change. Personalizing the change discussion with critical individuals can help build confidence through the transition and inspire others, too.
- Embrace a growth mindset. A growth mindset is critical at CORE. To be successful here, our employees must embrace it. We all make mistakes, especially as company leaders. It’s part of the human experience. We’ve implemented changes at CORE that haven’t worked out or weren’t effective for one reason or another. That’s OK. We acknowledge the mistake, learn from it, grow from it, and adapt our path. Making that part of our culture – giving team members at all levels permission to make mistakes and learn from them – has helped our team members to learn and embrace change more quickly. Every employee has a responsibility to affect change within themselves and allow others to do the same. It’s easier said than done, but employees feel empowered when it works.
- Eliminate the drama. Occasionally, despite our best efforts to guide our employees through change, some simply won’t accept it. This is usually when drama and negativity start to fester, which can devastate the culture, productivity, quality, and client experience. Drama is a virus that spreads like wildfire. When this occurs, we put a significant effort into coaching employees to row in the same direction. However, if employees poke holes in the boat as quickly as you fix them, and alignment is futile, it’s time to part ways. Teams must be aligned to be successful. Otherwise, the employee, team, and company will suffer. Even with staff and talent shortages, departures are OK. It’s often the best way for both parties to succeed moving forward.
No doubt about it, change is hard. However, I believe change is vital to a company’s success. Change helps us to constantly improve and stay nimble. When change seeds take root, it adds energy to the company. As company leaders, we won’t always get it right. But listening to employees, strategically communicating, embracing a growth mindset, and eliminating the drama can help employees let go of the negativity and evolve through the change, which ultimately builds successful and thriving companies.
Blake Calvert, PE, is president and CEO of CORE Consultants, Inc., a professional services firm in Colorado offering civil engineering, natural resources, and land surveying services. The team specializes in land development, energy, and public infrastructure projects in Colorado and beyond. Founded in 2014, CORE has created a unique culture that empowers its people to thrive at home, at work, and in their community. CORE’s focus on balance has resulted in happy employees, happy clients, and thriving communities. To learn more about CORE, visit liveyourcore.com.