Change is an essential part of every successful business and yet it can cause a lot of unnecessary concern and strife for employees unless it is properly managed. I personally was part of a company that was bought out by another larger company(one of the largest in the world in fact) and I know first hand how to manage that change and how it can affect the lives of everyone involved.
Recently the American Psychological Association did a study on Work and Wellness and I thought the results were extremely interesting. Full study here. It shows how change has a profound effect on people both physically and mentally. This is why it is so important to properly manage change in your organization or business.
Below the graph are some tips that I hope will help you to manage the change in your business/organization. (each one explained in depth throughout the article)
Photo: American Psychological Association
Respect their feelings
Show how the changes will improve their lives
Explain why the company needs to change
Make sure management has the right tools to enact change
Work with the early adopters
Fears and insecurity
Be honest and care
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. I cannot stress enough that clear communication is absolutely the most essential part of helping employees deal with change. When you don’t clearly communicate how the change will impact the lives of people involved fear sets in and then resistance or even active sabotage can rear its ugly head. When you have active resistance anything the company does is exponentially harder and any objectives you have will be harder to meet.
Employees, especially with long tenure, get used to performing their jobs in a certain way. They come into work with a clear idea of what needs to be done and how they are going to accomplish it. This routine grounds them and creates certainty. When large-scale change is introduced this certainty is no longer present and that is the core of the issue.
Communicate outcomes and not tasks in the beginning because it is much more effective to communicate what will happen vs overwhelming with tasks. Talk about what outcomes the change will bring and get to the tasks later in a measured, efficient way broken up into manageable parts so as to not overwhelm. If you start rifling off task lists without proper training and understanding the employee can feel inadequate and uncertain.
Respect Their Feelings
Respect how the employee feels about the change even if it is negative. When the company I worked for was bought I was happy; ecstatic even. I was aware of the changes well in advance and I saw the opportunity this large company would bring me. I knew, however, that for the majority of the front-line staff that it would be an unwanted change; at least at first. We made the general announcement and then scheduled 15-minute conversations with every staff member to just ask how they felt about it so that their concerns could be heard. We didn’t try and problem solve at this point we just listened. I like to think we ran a very progressive organization and we always made sure that the staff felt comfortable expressing their true opinions so a decent percentage of the feedback was negative, which was okay, and expected.
Show how the Changes Will Improve Their Lives
Don’t tell them how much profit the company will make or how the systems are better or anything of that nature; they don’t care, or at least they don’t care enough. Talk more about how it will help them and talk about outcomes and not process or procedures. Explain the positive impact of the changes in relation to their exact job and how it will personally improve their lives.
Explain Why the Company Needs to Change
Earlier on I mentioned that change is an essential part of every business, and it is. Without changing and adapting a business will inevitably fail as their methods and message become outdated. We all know the story of Blockbuster. That, however, doesn’t stop the average employee from mostly wanting daily work life to stay the same. There are some exceptions to this rule but generally, people like to come to work knowing mostly what their day will look like.
Part of having them accept the change is to give a detailed explanation of why the company needs to change. Start with the basics around how companies need to change to keep up with the world and that change isn’t always bad, it can often be good as well, even though it may not feel that way at first. Explain the benefits of the change sticking mostly to outcomes.
Here is a basic short-form example.
” Bill I know these changes are a lot and I understand your frustration. The world moves quickly and to stay competitive we need to keep up. Let’s sit down and talk about how these changes will impact you.”
Then move into the specifics of what the changes are, sticking mostly to outcomes.
“Bill, this new system is going to allow you to spend less time on paperwork and more time doing what you love which is doing your actual job.”
Make Sure Management Has the Right Tools to Enact Change
Management should have a clear understanding of what the future will hold and they should have the tools to not only share the change but properly enact it and manage it all the way through. They should have access to what the change entails and be proactive around process so that everyone else can clearly understand what needs to be done. It is also very important to have buy-in from management in this stage. Often companies can get caught in the trap of assuming management will automatically be engaged and happy with the change when in fact they may be just as resistant if it is not properly communicated to them.
Work With the Early Adopters
I recently listened to a book by Simon Sinek called Start With Why (affiliate link) and he breaks down people into 5 groups. Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. Certain personality types are actually drawn to new and innovative ideas. I used to know a guy who would wait in line every single time a new Apple phone came out. For hours he would stand in that line each time the newest model was released. He also pre-ordered a Tesla and was frequently on Kickstarter looking for the newest shiniest gadget or toy. To him, it was more important that he be part of something new rather than waiting to ensure all issues were ironed out.
When implementing large-scale changes I like to focus heavily on the early adopters. Early adopters have a different mindset and are less resistant to change making them the ideal candidates to champion the cause. If you properly engage the early adopters then you create a tipping point where they are the champions of change. The change then begins to happen organically as the early adopters work on the early majority and down the line, creating a movement that has its own intrinsic momentum. Not many people actually like to be outsiders. Most people want to be part of the majority and as you convert the early adopters the rest will follow. Don’t make your life hard. Don’t try and tackle the guy with 40 years tenure who has been in the same position for 35 years. Start with an early adopter.
When you make a major change in how a business operates invariably systems and procedures change as well. To give employees the best chance for success within the new world ensure that you consistently repeat the message. Habits are powerful and to change takes a large amount of effort and repetition. Set your people up for success by repeating the message consistently. This will also help them from sliding back into old habits or methods that don’t align with the changes.
Fears and Insecurity
I think most people want to change but that they fear change because it is the unknown. Expect that employees will be angry and fearful in the beginning as the changes happen and they feel the impact on their current jobs. When change is first announced employees tend to wonder whether or not they will fit into the new system. There is uncertainty around whether they will have a job down the road. Sometimes changes do mean cutbacks and it’s unfortunate but a necessary part of business. Make sure you are clear in your message and make sure you talk to each employee and discuss how they will fit into the new system.
Be Honest and Care
It goes without saying but be honest and communicate clearly what the changes will entail, timelines, expectations and so forth. Genuinely caring about how your employees feel about the impending changes will help a lot. Listen to them and really hear them.
Ensure you have training strategies in place. Generate timelines and expectations so that employees understand what is expected of them. If it is a system change leverage the system provider and use their training documentation. Do as much legwork as possible beforehand to understand the changes and work on SOP’s to ensure there is a clear blueprint. Touch base with them frequently to ensure the training is working as intended and they are understanding the new system, process, change, etc.
With large-scale change comes a higher workload. Setting clear expectations around workload will help employees come to terms with what has to be done. It is OK to expect a lot from them as there will be a lot of extra work generated by the changes and even simple tasks can be time consuming in the beginning. Set the expectation so that no conflict arises from differing expectations.
Below is one of my favorite quotes because it is so true. As humans we develop habits and patterns. Our brain is very efficient and as we repeat things it starts taking short cuts. It is amazing how much goes on under the surface of our minds that we are not conscious of. Bear this in mind when making big changes. Have empathy for the people involved and realize that it takes a lot of effort to change. Be diligent and realize that people will go back to previous habits and that it will take multiple course corrections to make the changes permanent. Help them work through the changes, and when the new patterns set in life will go back to normal.
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” ― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein