Don’t worry; I’m not really going to talk about politics.
But all week I’ve been thinking about a recent Peggy Noonan column in The Wall Street Journal that was ostensibly about the Republican presidential race, but touched on an important aspect of change.
In the column, Ms. Noonan tried to explain the free-for-all in the Republican party with Donald Trump stirring the pot.
To illustrate why voters are attracted to Mr. Trump, Ms. Noonan told a story about Margaret Thatcher, the former UK prime minister. In 1989, Ms. Noonan writes, Ms. Thatcher tried to impose a change in the British tax system. But people resisted and Ms. Thatcher, who stuck to her position that change was needed, was voted out the next year.
“Years later,” writes Ms. Noonan, Ms. Thatcher “told me what she’d learned. People are afraid, she said; they live closer to the margins than we understand. When you propose a big change you can leave people feeling as if the rug is being pulled from under them.”
The lesson, explains Ms. Noonan, is this: “Know how close to the edge people feel, how powerless, and respect their anxiety. Don’t look down on it, and them.”
Think about how this applies to any big change. A reorganization. An initiative to become more innovative, efficient or quality-conscious. A merger, spin off or acquisition.
Senior leaders announce the change and they expect employees to enthusiastically jump on the bus. But (to deliberately mix a metaphor) employees feel like the rug is being pulled out from under them. They worry: How can I be more efficient when I’m working so hard right now? Will I be able to handle this change? Will I lose my job?
When introducing change, we need to acknowledge anxiety and create ways employees can safely express anxiety. Then we need to encourage leaders to respond to issues in respectful, patient ways.
Whatever happens in the Republican race (your guess is as good as mine), this is a valuable lesson to learn.