Even good leaders can overlook the emotional impact of business changes on employees.
Change creates resistance
When you think of change management or organizational change which of these responses most aptly describes you? Do you A) get up and dance for joy, B) groan loudly and execute a world-class eye roll, or C) jump up and run for the nearest exit? Can't decide between B and C, yeah, I feel your pain.
Most of us are creatures of habit and like things to stay the way they are. According to the diffusion of innovation theory, only 10 to 15% of the population are early adopters or the ones first in line for change. That leaves most of us taking a wait-and-see approach and a few of us actively resisting change. This wait-and-see approach may be fine when it comes to upgrading to the latest cell phone, but it can be detrimental when you're trying to implement change within your organization.
Change is the new normal
We live in a world that's in constant flux, change is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. The constant barrage of technological, social, economic, and governmental change has become background noise. We all deal with change a bit differently, but what we all have in common is a natural resistance to it. Many leaders overlook the emotional impact of business changes on employees. Many leaders overlook the emotional impact of business changes on employees.
There are many good reasons for making business changes, adapting to market shifts, responding to competition, providing better customer service, etc. Yet seemingly innocuous changes to processes, workflow, or business direction can leave employees feeling anxious, uncertain about their future, and overwhelmed.
One study showed that over 60% of organizational change efforts fail*. Change efforts fail for many reasons, but right up there at the top is our natural resistance to change. So how do we help our employees and staff move from resisting change to embracing change? If most change efforts fail, how can we make sure yours succeeds?
I'm glad you asked.
Here are several ways you can help your employees embrace change.
One of the first and easiest things that can be done to help employees embrace change is to encourage them to ask questions. In the absence of information, people will create a story, sheer fiction, that may cause more harm than good. So let's be proactive. Speak to people individually and have group meetings where the change(s) can be openly discussed.
In many instances, people won't ask an excellent question for fear that it will be considered a “stupid” question. If you are patient, you will field questions that will make your entire team better and shut down the conspiracy theories before they can take root. Beyond the town hall meetings, create a culture that welcomes questions.
I recently worked with an organization to create change champions. Several influential individuals were skeptical about the need for change (read change critics) but once I shared with the organization some of the principles of change and why the intended changes were a good thing, they warmed to the discussion.
This led to an organization-wide question-and-answer session with myself and the CEO that galvanized and energized the entire organization around the coming changes.
Make Change Champions
You have a choice, you can make change critics or change champions. Hint, hint, make change champions. You can accomplish this easily by involving people who will be affected by the change early on in the change discussions.
People defend what they develop. If someone feels they have an ownership in the change and that their voice was heard, they will become a change champion. They, in turn, will share their feelings about the intended changes and make more change champions.
People defend what they develop but they fight what they fear.
Help them Catch the Vision
For change to be effective, communication has to be clear, consistent, and intentional. The only thing you can bet on is confusion, so make sure you are communicating well. By the way, sending an email doesn't count as clear communication. By the time a leader, or leadership team, announces a change you have been working on that change for quite a while.
You have lived with it, argued for it, dissected it, and understand it. Remember that your staff and employees may not have had the same level of engagement in the change process and are going to need some time to sort through the implications of the intended change. Be patient.
As a leader, you want to help them see both the risks they will avoid and the rewards that will be obtained by making the change. Point them to the brighter future the change will create. Point them to that brighter future you see clearly, but may still be a bit fuzzy to them. Your patience will be rewarded.
What did I miss? How have you successfully navigated the change minefield in your organization?
I would love to hear your tales of change and glory and/or field any questions you might have on change.
Until next time,
Make today count!
*Vinson, M. & Pung, C. (2006). Organizing for successful change management: A Mckinsey Global Survey. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/PDFDownload.aspx?ar=1809