Supercharging Change in Complex Times

Five Questions Your Direct Reports Have (But May Not Ask)

By Susan Battley

The increased complexity that leaders face today means that mastering major change is even more challenging than it was a few years ago.  Whether it’s strategy change, management change, operational change, or product change, or some combination thereof, desired results need to occur faster than ever to maintain business health and competitive advantage.

How can leaders supercharge their change initiatives?  For starters, they can address up front the questions, fears, and concerns that their people, including their immediate direct reports, have about the change.  If this can be done in advance of the change actions, all the better.  However, in many cases this needs to be done after the fact, as in situations involving management restructuring or workforce reduction.

In the course of driving major organizational change, leaders can lose sight of the fact that they have to establish a new psychological contract with their people. (The term “psychological contract” refers to expectations of the employment relationship, such as mutual obligations, values, and expectations that operate over and above any formal contract.)

In the vortex of change, leaders can make erroneous assumptions.  For example, they can overlook – or minimize – the emotional impact that layoffs have on the survivors.  Sadness and anxiety are common reactions.

Leaders can assume that the messages they send are precisely the messages that are received. They can assume that stating key messages once is enough for motivated people to reconnect and re-engage. They can forget that people one and two levels below them may also be one and two stages behind them in the change process.

The Five “P” Questions Everyone Has

Here are five questions leaders should be prepared to address proactively as part of supercharging change in their organizations.  These are questions their direct reports – and everyone else – will undoubtedly have, but may not always ask.  Because they deal with performance, partnership, priorities, politics, and promotion, I often refer to them as the “Five P-Questions of Change.”

#1 Performance.   How will I be evaluated?

  • Action Step: Describe as specifically as possible what success now looks like for the business, the boss, the team, and the individual employee. Review these metrics frequently to reinforce priorities and targets.

#2 Partnership.  How can I survive (and thrive) during these turbulent times?

  • Action Step: Leaders must demonstrate strong team and culture-building skills. When leaders are accessible, consistent, transparent, and fair, less second-guessing and in-fighting occur behind office doors. Trust, the essential building block of peak execution, is established or re-established quickly.

#3 Priorities:  How do I choose between competing options?

  • Action Step: Let team members and staff know which activities or relationships have the greatest value now. Even loyal, hard-working contributors will make subpar decisions if they don’t have all the facts.

#4 Politics.  Who can make things happen for me, either positively or negatively?

  • Action Step: Help your key people understand the new power structure, both formal and informal. Brief them on protocol and any sensitive issues that could compromise their success. They will be more comfortable with the demands on them once they have the lay of the land.

#5 Promotion.  How can I gain recognition?

  • Action Step: Model norms for appropriate self-promotion in these tough times. (Yes, they do want to know.)  Given the very real concerns with job security, your best people want guidance on how outstanding work will be recognized. Otherwise, they may have little impetus to take calculated risks or put in extra effort.


Robust, updated psychological contracts with employees from senior management to the front-line are essential to supercharging results in the midst of major change.

By addressing these five questions, leaders will get at the issues that those responsible for day-to-day implementation and oversight need to know to quickly re-engage and commit.

Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Susan Battley

An advisor to Fortune 100 executives and world-class institutions for more than twenty years, Dr. Susan Battley is an internationally recognized expert on CEO and leadership effectiveness. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional service firms, and elite research institutions. She has worked with chief executives, university presidents, Nobel laureates, and prominent scientists, diplomats, and educators. A respected media source for analyzing leadership in the context of news-breaking events and key trends, Battley has been featured in outlets worldwide including CNN, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chief Executive, Business Week, United Press International, Harvard Management Update, Entrepreneur, Science, Leader to Leader, Investments, and Worth. She is the founder and CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, a leadership strategy and organization effectiveness consultancy.