Blog Post

With Strong Leadership, Employees Can Get Excited About Change

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This article was originally published under Jeff Miller's column "The Science of Workplace Motivation" on

When I was laid off from my job at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, it marked a huge change in my life. I walked out of the office that afternoon, got in my car and let out a heavy sigh.

Earlier that day, I'd already experienced loss and doubt, the first two stages of change described in Ann Salerno's The Change Cycle. By the time I was driving home, I'd moved on to stage three: "discomfort."

In stage three, we accept that change is happening, but we're still uncomfortable. What am I going to do now? I remember thinking. I didn't have a path forward. I felt stuck. It wasn't until my wife started helping me take steps toward finding a new position that I was able to really feel productive again.

As individuals or organizations go through change, employees will inevitably experience stage three, and as their manager, you may notice a resulting loss in productivity. While this has the potential to threaten the success of your business, there are common-sense steps you can take to get employees past this initial feeling of paralysis and into Salerno's stage four, where creativity and energy return.

With Discomfort Comes the Opportunity to Help Rebuild Confidence

For the past few weeks, I've been traveling the country teaching our leadership team at Cornerstone how to manage employees through these stages of change. When we start to talk about stage three, I tell them to visualize the "heavy sigh."

At this point, employees still aren't thrilled with the change, and they're not sure what to do about it, but they unwillingly accept it (hence the deep sigh). To help them find a way forward and get unstuck, use these support tactics:

  1. Find time to follow up: Set up times for employees to check back in with you or other company leaders about the change. They might need to air concerns, hear information again, or even vent their frustrations. A Harvard Business Review surveyshows employees are able to focus better and feel more engaged in the workplace when their emotional needs are met.
  2. Help employees tackle small tasks successfully: Psychologists call confidence self-efficacy: your ability to believe you can succeed in a situation. Help employees feel success again by directing them toward simple tasks like making a phone call or scheduling a meeting. While these might not have a major impact on the business, these tasks help employees regain their sense of self-efficacy.
  3. Give employees a break: Studies show taking a break can actually make you more productive. Encourage employees to find ways to take time away during the day: an extra hour at lunch for the gym or a walk during the afternoon. This time away often generates renewed energy and focus.

In Stage Four, Choose A Path Forward

Once employees experience these small successes, they will start to regain confidence and think, "Hey, this might actually work." This is stage four: discovery. In this stage, we feel hopeful about change and motivated to take action.

In stage four, you'll hear a lot of "what about this?" and "could we try it this way?" Employees will begin to conceptualize fresh ways to operate within this new reality.

It's important to remember, leading employees through phase four is a balancing act. You want to encourage creative thinking because it's a process that will help employees feel invested in the change -- and it will likely generate great ideas. Leaders should balance creativity and brainstorming with tactical plans for implementing the change.

At this point, stages five and six of Salerno's model won't be far behind. In these final stages, change is in place and productivity has returned. As a leader, you can turn your attention to learning and preparing for inevitable future changes.

Photo: Creative Commons

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

The 5 Employment Laws Every Manager Must Know

Blog Post

The 5 Employment Laws Every Manager Must Know

Employment law is complicated and can have big repercussions for your company if employees fail to adhere to it — either out of ignorance or neglect. A talent contractor for Comcast was just forced to pay $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit over unpaid overtime — a violation of employment law. While you can't expect everyone at your company to be experts in the law (that's why you should have an attorney on retainer), your managers should be trained on the basics. Otherwise, you make your company susceptible to lawsuits.

Schedule a personalized 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organization’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2024