Most people aren’t fans of change. They get comfortable with the familiar and develop routines around repeated tasks. As humans, we sometimes resist change to a fault, sticking with outdated practices just because they’re easier.
The workplace is no different. Change in a professional environment can make people nervous, or even irritated. It can seem like an unnecessary burden. As a manager (at any level of the organization), it’s your job to show associates that change is far from scary — that it can, in fact, be beneficial.
Change is an inevitability of doing business. Adapting to advances in technology, processes, and company size are some of the many things that necessitate change. So how do you get associates to realize that and accept organizational change as a good thing when it comes?
Helping Your Employees Accept Organizational Change
Most of the process of effectively implementing a change in your workplace comes down to good communication. You have to tell people why a change is happening, not just that a change is happening. Remember that communication runs two ways and it is vital that you listen to others’ concerns.
Failure to communicate why the change is needed can leave people to construct their own narratives, and a lot of the time they’ll think of the worst possible scenario.
For example, if you hire someone in a similar role to an existing employee, the existing employee might worry that they’re going to be replaced. In reality, you might just want to give your existing employee extra support or more opportunity. If you assume they understand that but don’t tell your existing employee, they’ll be left to fill in the gaps themselves. And that could create a misunderstanding or worse.
While each situation is different, there are five general principles that have proven effective at guiding people through a major change in the workplace. As management, it’s your job to master these principles and use them with your associates.
1. Be The Bridge Between Staff and Senior Leadership
When change happens, it’s company leadership that has to set an example for the rest of the staff. Especially at the mid-level, managers are the ones who staff will interact with the most.
Entrepreneur and author Brent Gleeson put it this way in an article for Forbes:
“One of the most important roles a leader has is to drive necessary change and evangelize its importance. Obtaining buy-in and protecting the company culture are critical and this can only be done with clear and consistent communication and follow-through.”
Bottom line, it’s your job to address any concerns your staff might have about a change. You have the means to get people excited about the change, or at least help them understand why it’s happening so it can progress smoothly.
2. Listen and Observe
90% of the job is listening. If people are angry or something isn’t working, they’ll let you know it. Explicitly or implicitly, you’ll be able to see what’s broken by observing what your associates say and do.
This can let you know that your current plan isn’t working, or it can help you find out what needs to be tweaked or altered. Use those observations to inform your approach instead of going in blind.
3. Meet People Where They Are
It’s essential to understand that change is not easy, and can in fact create fear. People could be worried a change will mean the loss of their job, that their job will become unfamiliar, or that their role will be made redundant. And that fear can often manifest itself as resistance.
Avoid keeping people in the dark about the particulars of the change. Be straightforward about what it is, why you’re making it, and how it’s going to affect the company going forward. Involve them in the planning process — keeping people in the loop throughout will do a lot to reduce their anxiety.
Assigning clear roles can help as well. Making people responsible for certain parts of the change, and having them regularly check in with you, will give them a part to play in the process and allow them to provide you with feedback if there are any problems.
Often there will be people within the company that support the change immediately. These are first adopters. Bring those people on board to champion the change with others who might be resistant to it. Sometimes people need to hear something from a peer instead of a manager.
4. Explain The “Why”
Explaining the “why” is critical when it comes to implementing change. Never assume your associates will just understand why you’re doing something without it being explained — they aren’t in your position and might not have the same bird’s-eye view of the company.
People will create their own narrative around a change if you don’t explain why it’s happening. And often, that narrative will be a worst-case scenario. That will fuel fear, which will lead to people resisting the change.
When explaining the “why” to your associates, it’s important to do it in a way that lets them know you’ve listened to their concerns. Let them know you realize it might be strange or inconvenient at first, but the change has a beneficial purpose.
Communicate the expected challenges as well as the good things that will come from the change, but also be sure to convey a sense of continuity. According to the Harvard Business Review, people are more likely to support change and encourage others to adopt it if they’re sure that the core of the company will still be the same.
5. Know That Resistance To Change Is An Emotional Response
There will always be people with a negative response to change. Sometimes that response will be automatic and based more on emotion than logic. They refuse before stopping to consider the benefits.
When that happens, people might state that opposition publicly and forcefully, which will make it harder for them to accept the change later on because they’ll feel like they’re losing face.
Keep this in mind when planning the change. The way you approach it, the communication you provide, and the input you seek give others a way to accept the change while saving face. This is where a manager’s role is critical. When explaining the “why,” managers can provide that out.
A critical factor to every single step in the process of change is emotional intelligence, defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
Being able to empathize with others in the company shows them you care, and that you’re listening. And it makes you better able to actually address their concerns, not just give them lip service.
When undertaking a change in your company, make sure you:
- Have a plan, and know how you’re going to implement it. Know who will be affected and what their role will be in the transition. Put your plan into action by communicating these important factors before you begin the change.
- Practice patience and empathy. See things from the point of view of your staff and try to imagine how you’d feel if you were in their shoes. Let them know they can come to you with concerns, then listen and address those concerns.
- Keep your associates in the loop every step of the way. Communicate (not just once but many times) what the change is, why it’s happening, and how it will go forward. Use multiple communication channels so that everyone is able to embrace the information.
Skills like empathy and communication are often called “soft skills” and are less understood. But neglecting them creates a disconnect between management and employees, ultimately making your job much more difficult. When it comes to managing organizational change, this neglect of emotional intelligence can end up being one of the main reasons why a change initiative fails and why people leave the organization. Remember, you are not managing change, but the people who are making the change.
At Bellewether we understand the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace, and we’re ready to help you hone those skills to be a better leader. If you’re struggling with implementing a change or don’t know where to start, get in touch with us today.