Change isn’t the Problem, You Are!

Change is inevitable in the workplace if a company aspires to be successful. Understanding impact on employees and how to lead them through it is key to success.  Both external and internal forces, (including things like the economy, competition, technology, employee’s skill sets, and organizational culture) require companies to continually explore ways to adjust and adapt, in other words, change.  That said, change isn’t the problem, in most cases you are!

The challenges in working through change can include the reluctance to recognize that change is necessary and that it requires all employees to embrace it, even if that means moving out of individual and collective comfort zones. Therefore, it is imperative to understand how people react to change, as well as the importance of communication and employee engagement during times of change.

I’ll use the following hypothetical scenario to illustrate some common challenges companies may face after introducing major changes to their workforce:

The leadership of a company held a special meeting to introduce employees to a series of changes that had been in development for several months and it bombed.  The employees got upset and started asking all kinds of crazy questions, some even got irate and stormed out.  Following the meeting, the leaders were surprised and confused that the meeting went poorly.  They had worked on the plan for months, addressing what they thought would be issues early on. The big picture seemed so clear to them – but unfortunately, not to the employees.

So what went wrong?  In subsequent discussions with employees, the leaders realized their errors, and took away the following key lessons:

  1. Change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that people have to like it or accept it.
  2. Be honest, timely, and thorough in communicating.  This will help build the trust that is critical to gaining employee support.  In other words, don’t wait until its time to change, to communicate.
  3. Communicate the need for change to employees as early as business needs allow. This step can be critical because people often first respond to change from a “what’s in it for me?” perspective. Uncertainty on emotionally charged subjects like pay, work schedules, training, reporting relationships and reductions in force should be addressed as early as possible. This response will provide employees the facts they need and want.  If addressed effectively, this information may limit potential problems, including a growing lack of trust with management, anger, resentment, disengagement and unwanted turnover – all of which could eventually lead to negative results in productivity, quality, service, and ultimately, revenue and profit.
  4. Consider how to engage employees with specific subject matter expertise in the planning and deployment process so they are part of the solution. Their understanding of the situation may facilitate acceptance of the changes and even foster commitment to the new direction.
  5. Look into implementing department and/or individual “change progress” meetings to address employee’s questions and concerns as they move through times of change and uncertainty.
  6. If not in place already, consider beginning weekly department meetings in which general information affecting the business can be discussed.
  7. Celebrate and recognize employees for achieving short-term goals.  That kind of recognition can go a long way toward motivating employees to continue working through the change.
  8. Lastly, for those unwilling to embrace the necessary changes, it may be necessary to say good bye.  The key with this lesson is that it should be the last step.  Some of the staunchest defenders of the present are also the ones most deeply afraid of the future.  Help them through their fear by doing all of the things above and if that doesn’t work and they still refuse to buy in, well they likely will be happier somewhere else, so help them find that place.  Just a thought, but having that happen the first time can go a long way toward keeping it from happening regularly!

Change is inevitable in today’s workplace. Understanding the impact change can have on employees and how to lead employees through it are important to maximizing a company’s opportunities for success.  The keys to achieving that success are planning and communication and then even more communication and remember that communication is two-way, so listen before you talk!  It really is pretty simple, just not always easy!

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