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March 12, 2019 | Culture

Helping Employees Deal with Change in the Workplace

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The rate of organizational change has accelerated dramatically over the past ten years, with the average organization undergoing five changes in a span of three years.1

Corporate leaders trying to manage increasing change confirm that failing to do so adequately can be quite costly: Employees upset by change are generally less productive.

To help your employees through the process of change, and even better, encourage them to support the change, you must first understand the emotions they may be experiencing at each phase.

Phases of Workplace Change

As soon as you announce change to your organization, employees emotions will range from fear to relief and maybe even excitement.

As the change is implemented and employees are working with new people, new processes or new technology, they may become confused. This is the point at which your change initiative is most vulnerable. If confused employees make mistakes, naysayers or those opposed to the change will use the mistakes as fuel that the new initiative won’t work and that you should return to their old, comfortable ways.

Only once the change starts showing tangible results, will more positive emotions emerge, such as optimism and confidence.

So, how can you help your employees along this emotional rollercoaster from fear and resistance to optimism and action?

Tell Your Organization What You Want

Studies suggest that this is where most leaders fall short in communicating change.Employees of leaders who have fallen short in this ‘ask’ report that their leader was not clear enough about what they hoped to achieve through change or about how they were supposed to help implement the change.

What to do:

  • Celebrate successes or work done under the old system to help employees feel appreciated and encouraged to take on the next challenge.

  • Explain to employees WHY the company needs to change, and why it needs to be NOW.

  • Express what you want in terms of OUTCOMES, not TASKS.

  • Ensure management is empowered with HOW the change will be implemented: tasks, timeline, challenges, etc.

Live the Change You Asked for and Keep Employees Updated

After the change has been introduced, employees need constant and consistent reassurance that their leaders are actively involved. Studies suggest that this means much more than modeling behaviors you’ve asked for.2 It also means making decisions that support the change - keeping your focus on the new strategy instead of letting old habits and issues feel like they’re urgent priorities that ultimately steal your focus.

What to do:

  • Let employees know HOW you will update them as the change initiative unfolds.
  • Allocate the right people and resources - or a task force -  who can help you signal to the organization that change is important. These individuals can also help to answer questions and gather information about how employees are coping with the change.
  • Change the agendas of senior team meetings to focus on your change priority first.

Don’t Squash Resistance

It’s important to remember that change is personal and you must earn your adopters one by one. Each employee’s degree of resistance will be determined by how severe they expect the impact of the change to be on them. Coming to accept the change will depend on:

  • how much resistance they have

  • their coping skills; and

  • their support system.

What to do:

  • REWARD desired behaviors, instead of chastising negative ones.

  • Instead of focusing on the resistance, focus on the coping skills and support. Before you start implementing change, your task force should evaluate employee readiness with quick assessments or self-evaluations. This will allow you to identify areas in which your company will need the most training.

  • Develop tools for your task force, or for management, to help prepare them for training and guiding others, and for regular communications.

Examples of Coping Strategies to Help Relieve Resistance to Change

  • Face your fears. Instead of letting them swirl around in your mind all day, write down your biggest fears or anxieties resulting from this change. Talk through these fears with your co-workers to see if others might be sharing them, and then create a plan for how you will address the fear should it come to pass. Just knowing you have a plan can help to ease the anxiety.

  • Be part of the change. Try to adopt an attitude of excitement and view the change as an opportunity to learn a new skill, gain some leadership experience, or meet some new people.

  • Reduce stress and anxiety. To make rational decisions during what appears to be a time of chaos, focus on your health. If left unchecked, unwanted change can lead to a surge in stress-related hormones that can disrupt your sleep, appetite, emotional intelligence, productivity and more. Care for yourself by:

    • Exercising. If you’re new to exercise, adding a short daily walk around the building could make a huge improvement to your mood throughout the work day.

    • Stretching. Stress can very quickly turn into an aching head or aching muscles. Take a few minutes each day to gently stretch and relax your body.

    • Meditating. Take a few minutes each day to deliberately slow and quiet your mind. During this time, no thoughts of work, or the change are allowed in.

Creating a culture of wellness that encourages employees to be mindful of these strategies and more year round, instead of solely through periods of change, can ease the burdens on senior leadership, human resources and management. Watch this webinar to begin learning about the process of creating a culture of wellness.

Generate Short Term Wins

Remember change takes time - in large corporations up to a whole year. This time frame can be discouraging to employees at all levels of your organization, and you may find it difficult to keep the optimism and enthusiasm for change alive.

Until the change is actually embedded in your organization’s culture, it will remain vulnerable to resistance. According to the Kotter method, a widely adopted approach for managing organizational change, the final stage for successful change is linking the change to corporate culture through norms of group behavior and shared values.3

What to do:

  • Be clear from the start about HOW the change will be measured.

  • Create conditions that support early successes and recognize the individuals who helped make the first steps toward change possible.

Helping Employees Deal with Common Change Obstacles in the Workplace

No matter how prepared your team may be to guide employees through the change process, you’re bound to hit an obstacle or two. Being aware of potential obstacles and having a game plan to address them can ensure your team remains on the steady path from fear and resistance to optimism and action.

A Robert Half Management Resources survey showed 65% of managers believe clear and frequent communication to be the most important aspect when leading change.

Just as change is personal, so are learning and reception styles, so it’s important that there be more than one change communication channel. Some employees also feel it’s important that the communications come from multiple sources, such as management and HR.

Some of the specific communication pitfalls and possible remedies for them are:

  • Using facts and figures as support. Leaders often communicate internally they way they would to their C-Suite or to investors answering questions such as “How will this affect our bottom line?” or “How much revenue growth can we expect from this change?” But these facts mean little to the employees responsible for implementing the changes. To better connect with them, address the emotional impact of your proposed changes.

  • Using the wrong task force. Studies have found employees tend to trust managers most, but that may not be the case in your company culture. Studying the relationships in your organization will give you a better idea of who the best messengers will be, whether that’s management, human resources, or appointed individuals within each department.

  • Trying to implement change to quickly. Your task force needs time to prepare your employees for change and to better understand the audience that they’ll be communicating to throughout the change process.

  • Straying from the outcomes. If regular communications start to become task oriented instead of outcome oriented, then it may not resonate with employees.

A Personalized Engagement Plan to Ease the Change Process

No matter the organization, motivating change can be difficult. Bravo is prepared to help you drive year-round participation and engagement not only in change, but in other initiatives as well.

Most importantly, we help you clearly articulate your goals throughout your organization and create custom employee experiences.


Resources:

1Gartner. Change Management. Accessed December 10, 2018. https://www.gartner.com/en/insights/change-management.

2Harvard Business Review. How to Communicate Clearly During Organizational Change. Accessed December 10, 2018. https://hbr.org/2017/06/how-to-communicate-clearly-during-organizational-change.

3Kotter, John. (2014). Accelerate: Building strategic agility for a faster-moving world. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Topics: Culture

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