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The upsides of change at your company

July 2, 2015, 1:00 PM UTC
Photograph by Pete Duvall — The Hitachi Foundation

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you lead a team during a time of transition? is written by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

My inclination as a leader is to make lemonade out of lemons. So when I learned of a change in my organization’s core financial support, my first thought was about how my team and I could turn this into an opportunity. One door closes as others open, but we were faced with the challenge of discovering these new doors and exploring what lies beyond. We dedicated an entire year to developing a strategic design process. We were determined to create a strategy that achieved mission impact through 2016, even in the face of some uncertainty.

While this is still a work in progress, I’ve learned some important lessons during this transition:

Be transparent with your team
Everyone knows that change is afoot. Before the rumors start flying and fears escalate, provide the details. Make sure that everyone gets a full and consistent report. This equalizes the power dynamics, reduces anxiety, and conveys respect for all as important stakeholders in the enterprise.

Enlist your team in the creative process of addressing the challenge
Our 2013 design process involved the entire staff and board during the course of a year. Everyone played roles as we assessed our strengths, researched options, built scenarios, and set targets. By encouraging the team to dream big about our future, we ensured that they were fully engaged in the process.

Create an anchor of certainty
Times of uncertainty can unleash some of the best ideas and most productive work. People are shaken out of their routines and see new possibilities. However, uncertainty also breeds anxiety, which is debilitating for employees and toxic for organizations. To secure our team, we instituted a retention incentive enabling people to remain focused on their work: We offered a generous package to those who would commit to stay through 2016. We also ensured a supportive work environment that provides people with the tools they need to succeed.

When an organization is undergoing a significant change, it is essential to keep staff engaged throughout the process. After taking inventory of both financial and intellectual assets, a leader must be responsive to the many nuances of executing a successful transition. Leading during a time of change requires nurturing a culture that embraces uncertainty.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you lead a team during a time of transition?

How every boss should tell employees that change is coming by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 ways to embrace change at your company by Kathy Collins, CMO of H&R Block.

A good boss never leaves their employees in the dark by Sandi Peterson, group worldwide chairman of Johnson & Johnson.