Are you a leader and shape the situation, or do you let yourself drift and hope for better days?

Well, these are crazy times and we all reach our limits. But these are exactly the times when it becomes clear who is a real leader or just an MM a “would-be manager”. Now it is up to the manager to stand at the front of the command bridge, to give the employees the feeling “I am there and I have my back. You can rely on me. I will stand my ground.” This is the time when the wheat separates from the chaff. It’s time to take responsibility.

What’s happening right now is a perfect change process. The change away from “Status QUO” – away from the comfort zone and into the fear zone. This means managing as a leader.

That’s why I took the chapter “Change Process” out of my script of my ETH lecture and adapted it to the current situation. Maybe there is something for you that will help you to be the somewhat different leader these days.

What happens in change processes?

Neurology teaches us that the human brain is basically searching for the recognizable. To do this, it looks for images and situations, experiences, in order to draw conclusions from what it has learned about the current information. Unfortunately, corona is a topic that we have not saved. And if it is, it is only from scary films in which viruses carry off the whole of humanity. There is nothing on this topic that we can stick to, where we could take out information. Everything is only an uncertain dark substance in our thoughts and our subconscious. Corona – what are you? Where are you taking us?

So nobody knows what these changes will bring and therefore the brain can’t find and draw parallels to the known.

So the brain of most people reacts with fear. In the amygdala, fear ensures that the prefrontal cortex (our logical thinking) is muffled and gives the signal to the reptilian brain to take over. This oldest part of our brain knows only 3 operating systems: attack, stagnation or flight. That’s why your employees react so strangely at the moment. They’re afraid and driven by these three forces.

This negative and diverse behaviour is also reflected very well in the well-known Curve of Change:

Figure 1: Curve of Change

The two axes of the change curve show the employee’s energy of action and the associated possibility to influence the change process (ordinate) over time (abscissa).

In view of the current situation, the shock occurs immediately in the first moment. “Change? Leave comfort zone? Why, how, where, why? “The employee is looking for clues on how to process this information. Interestingly, the employee’s willingness to act first increases because he negates the situation. “This can’t be true, it must be misinformation, something like this can’t happen to us” At some point, the fact that this is really an emergency/change process that affects him/her personally seeps through and the uncertainty finds its way to the employee. The energy to act collapses and only comes to a halt again when the employee begins to accept the situation. In many German change curves, this low point is called the “valley of tears”. At the moment, we are all in the valley of tears and licking our wounds, so the question arises as to what our employees need to get out of this valley of tears.

The strategy: “Well, it’ll work out” may well work out at some point, as long as the company does not suffer too much from the situation. But this is exactly where the employee needs management as a fixed star, a role model, a forerunner or a strong shoulder. How something like this can look like becomes clear when we follow the further course of the Curve of Change.

At some point, the employee begins to approach the situation step by step and begins to accept the change and try it out for himself. This is a very important point, because if there are problems during the trial and error, or if the desired success is not achieved and the old scepticism takes over the action energy again, then the following two effects can be expected:

– Either the action energy will slide back into the valley of tears…

– what is much worse, the employee goes into integration, but at a much lower level of action energy. This is then called resignation and is the worst thing that can happen.

At some point, the employee begins to approach the situation step by step and begins to accept the change and try himself out in it. This is a very important point, because if problems arise during the trial and error, or if the desired success is not achieved and the old scepticism takes over the action energy again, then the following two effects can be expected:

– Either the action energy will slide back into the valley of tears…

– what is much worse, the employee goes into integration, but at a much lower level of action energy. This is then called resignation and is the worst thing that can happen.

If the employee slides back into the valley of tears, he will at some point start to try something new. If these attempts are successful, he will become more and more confident and aware of the positive effects of the change, and the success will motivate him to continue working on the process until he has made the change his own and fully integrated the new into his everyday life. For a change process to be considered successful, this point must be higher in the energy of action than at the time when the process started with the shock.

Unfortunately, the studies that McKinsey has carried out over the years have shown time and again that middle management in particular is very critical of the change processes in their companies and up to 70% of them are of the opinion that the changes have not achieved anything.

Each of these strategic points on the Curve of Change requires a special consideration of the manager. The 5 elements of communication must be taken into account:

– Communication
– Communication
– Communication
– Communication
– Communication

But this is where the problem begins. Everyone prefers to inform about what they themselves would like to know. But unfortunately all people are different. In psy-chology we distinguish between different types of behaviour, which all have a different thirst for knowledge. One concept, the LIFO® principle distinguishes four types of behaviour. It would be too much to go into now. In abbreviated form: All 4 forms have different questions that are important and interesting for them:

What/by when?, Why?, How? And with whom? In communication it is always necessary to answer all four questions.

When I led my team (around 200 employees) into a 1.5-year process of merging Holcim and Lafarge, I offered my team to meet with us all four weeks to give them an update. Shortly after we started, they asked me to meet every two weeks. In the end we even met weekly. I told them that I had nothing new to say, but they insisted on the weekly schedule. After the merger was over, I asked my team what it meant to them to meet every week when all I had to do was repeat everything from last week.

They explained three important points to me:

1. through these meetings they saw that they were not alone in this difficult time. They only had to look around and saw that they were all stuck in the same boat. This sense of belonging activated the miracle weapon against fears: oxytocin, the binding hormone.

2. even when there was no news, one always had the feeling of being up to date. They felt confident that they were well informed.

3. and last but not least, this enormous effort showed them that I, as their supervisor, take them very seriously and took care of them. They appreciated that very much.

If you now look at the results the team achieved, you can say that we were one of the few teams that fully achieved their promised synergy goals.

There are moments when you cannot be thrifty. In change processes, you have to be generous with information and be present. The latter should be treated with caution at Corona. It doesn’t necessarily mean physically, but it means being available.

It is important to inform and communicate at every moment of the change process in such a way that each of the different styles of behaviour receives an answer and explanation. Thus it is always important to answer and satisfy the questions of the different behavioural styles: why, what and until when, with whom and how.

An important aspect in the communication of the change process, which is often forgotten, is the fact that it is absolutely necessary to explain again and again what does NOT change. This is especially helpful for those who are so fixated on the new that they can no longer see and recognize that everything never changes, but that it is always just an individual part of their daily work.

It is also important to remember that many employees have already gone through processes of change, and many such processes have not been successful. Very often, the changes get stuck in everyday working life. In the end you hear: Well, nothing will happen again!

So it is the manager’s job to make sure that the milestones achieved and what has already been implemented are well communicated and explained. Progress is an important element in communication to convince even the last doubters: We will implement it! Romano Guardini writes in his book “The Ages”. One changes not only to arrive, but also to live. The air-stopping principle, or head-in-the-sand principle does not work. Here you have to counteract as a leader. In change, it is important to keep values constant. To maintain the good is to maintain the values to live. The centre of values in the time of change, the dominant factor is growth. Not that of the company, which may well shrink, but of the people themselves. In change there are always two poles, that of the person himself and that of the leader.

However, Romano Guardini did not talk about the company, but only about the people. But I found this statement so apt that I took the liberty of rewriting it to reflect our situation in the companies.

For me today it is more important than ever to prepare the employees for change, because the willingness to change is essential today. This is particularly important to me in the hiring process.

For such situations, you need people who are trained to leave the normal and go into the unusual, into the danger of going into the abnormal. We can help your employees to go down such paths. We can help you as a manager to stand at the front of the bridge now.

We do not guarantee supernatural operating results, because times are very difficult and hard, but you will learn a behaviour that will make you say with your head held high: “I stood my ground, my husband or my wife!

Start training yourself and your team today. If you as a manager or your team need help, we give courses and coaching even in times of the virus. Our web-based workshops or interactive online whiteboards help us to manage them even from a distance. We offer help in German and English.

Now you need leaders who are the rock in the surf for your employees. Is that you or can we help you?

If you need support, please contact us via or contact me directly: Andreas Halbleib +41 79 816 59 73

This is our success story – change in times of chaos.

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