Monday Mornings with Madison

Getting Employees to Board the “Change Train”

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Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

How to Get Employees to Embrace Change

Changes come in all sizes, from minor adjustments to total overhauls.  For businesses, most changes tend to be small, incremental adjustments.  Update the accounting software.  Expand the sales team.  Lease additional space.  Go paperless.  Add social media links to the corporate signature block.  Revise the project management process.   Start blogging.  These changes have an impact, but overall it can be managed through training, technology and time.

However, there are times when a company needs or is forced to make major changes to its structure, service offering, operational processes, leadership, or service delivery.   At such times, change can seem like a tsunami barreling straight ahead.  For employees, a tidal wave of change can drive up turnover, drive down productivity and sink profitability… at least temporarily… unless the change process is mitigated.  Here are some tips on how to manage change and make employees feel comfortable riding the Change Train.

1. Contemplate

Not all changes are for the good.  Karen Kaiser Clark said “Life is change. Growth is optional.  Choose wisely.”  It is true that all change is not growth, just as not all movement is forward.  That is why it is important, before any big change, to take a moment to ponder and plan.  If a company is facing a massive rescaling or restructuring, the first impulse will be to go into a whirring spin of activity.  But, first, there is a lot of value to sitting quietly instead… at least for a small bit of time.

In the realm of language learning, there’s a stage called the Silent Period.  For example, if a child is moved from the U.S. to Israel, he will likely clam up and become more subdued for a few months.  When he finally opens his mouth, his ability to speak Hebrew will have flowered.  Making sense of a major change is a lot like that.  There is a need for a fallow period of planning and contemplating – thinking through what to change and how — before the company can pivot and blossom.

2. Provide Reassurance and Internal Care

Before jumping into a big change, take some time to do internal care. When familiar routines suddenly dissolve, it can seem as if all supports are gone.  For companies embarking on an overhaul, this can cause employees a lot of stress.  It can feel like a free fall.  It’s crucial, while absorbing the shock of what is new, to put a lot of effort in making employees feel cared for and valued.  Managers should spend time talking one-on-one with direct reports to explain the changes and allay any concerns.  HR should plan opportunities for staff to bond and connect.

3.  Silence the Warning Bells.

Change is scary, and there is a part of every human mind that is likely to pipe up (a/k/a complain) during big changes, flooding management and HR with warnings of “Risk!” or “Peril!” as the company seems to veer off course.  While these fears and warnings are normal – part of our human instinct to avoid danger – such complaints are useless when a company is updating and overhauling… like a misfiring car alarm.  So it is important to first listen to employee concerns, but then allay those fears and silence them.  When they warn of doom, just say “I hear your concerns.”  Ultimately, though, the staff needs to understand that the leadership is in control and the team needs to trust and support the changes.

4. Calm the Know-It-Alls.

Conventional wisdom has it that smart people don’t like having their minds changed.  For a company to make big changes, a lot of minds have to be changed… and many of them are pretty smart.  People who are smart often have trouble rethinking their positions.  As bright as they are, they may struggle with major overhauls of systems, leadership, processes and controls.  All the IQ in the world isn’t much good when a person’s professional world feels like it is being turned upside down.  For those people, it helps to find a way to calm them.  Sometimes it takes redirection or refocusing them in other areas or projects.  Sometimes it takes putting them in a position to have to lead some of the changes.  What doesn’t help is ignoring them.

5. Gather New Perspectives.

When making a big change, it helps if everyone affected tries to adopt a “blank slate” mentality.  They can cultivate a mindset in which they assume they don’t know anything and try to see the world with a clean set of eyes… a fresh perspective.  This is a great way to approach change because it asks everyone to view the change as an opportunity to start anew and consider all possibilities.  Employees can be encouraged to ask naive, wide-eyed questions about the changes and force the change agents to answer.  Then everyone can listen seriously to arguments they might once have dismissed.

6. Ask Employees to Reject the Word Impossible.

When an organization is tackling a major overhaul of a key area of operations or leadership, it is important to ignore prevailing wisdom of what is and is not possible and disregard standard approaches.  Employees must do the same.  They need to reject the idea that anything is impossible and imagine a scenario where anything – everything – is possible.  In that setting, it is easier for employees to be courageous and think like adventurous problem-solvers instead of frightened employees.

7. Ask Employees to Learn to Live with Uncertainty.

When embarking on anything new, it is important to push forward and try things even if there are big bumps and bruises along the way.  Mistakes and errors will happen.  Success is not a certainty.  That’s ok.  Employees need to learn to live with the uncertainty and move past it.  Any anxious feeling does not signal that something is wrong; only that something is new.  That’s just part of growing.

8.  Get Employees to Commit.

Once the change has been announced, it is important to ask employees to commit to successfully implement the change.  To get that commitment, assure the employee that if there are problems, there is an open door policy to listen to the issues and work together to resolve them.  If an employee refuses to commit to the change, it is more than likely they will tell everyone why the change will not work.

9.  Get a Facelift.

Sometimes, the best way to help deal with big internal changes is to also make some external changes.  This may sound counterintuitive.  How would making even more changes help staff cope with what may feel like a lot of change already?  Changing the physical space can help align the external with internal changes.  When a company is making big changes to brand, processes and/or services, it helps to update the physical space too.  Discard clutter.  Replace worn out carpets.   Paint scuffed walls.   Modernize and refresh furnishings.  Add lighting.  Seeing the space through another’s eyes can help.  When a company freshens the décor and updates its look, it is mentally better able to cast off old habits, routines and processes that were ineffectual or inefficient.

Change is inevitable but growth is a choice.  In business, embracing changes that help move the company forward is sure to lead to a brighter future and a rosier bottom line.

Quote of the Week

“We can’t be afraid of change.  You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea.  Holding onto something that is good for you now may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.” C. Joybell C.


© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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