Your CEO just got back from a conference and “knows” how to make your life easier with the latest silver gizmo. Sigh. Your coworker actively ignores the new procedure for accounts payable, which causes double (if not triple) work for you. Grrrr. Your direct report never communicates progress on the new initiative your boss told you to implement. Ugh. Change in the workplace is ceaseless. It will not stop. If it does stop, so will the enterprise. Every organization has to adapt or perish. Just ask Blockbuster, Kodak or Borders. They perished due to lack of change.
As Mind Tools featured in their article “Coping with Change”, there are two types of coping mechanisms. There is “control coping”, which is positive and proactive. You refuse to feel like a victim of change, instead you take charge and do whatever you can to be part of the solution, including managing your feelings. “Escape coping” is based on avoidance. You experience thoughts and emotions, or take specific actions, that help you avoid the difficulties of change. For instance, you might deliberately miss training classes, or show up too late to attend a meeting about the upcoming change.” It’s OK to experience both types of coping, but the best option is to default to “control coping.” As I frequently tell my clients, “Don’t we all want control?”
So here are some ways to facilitate change in the workplace:
- Share the rationale. Haven’t we all been asking “Why?” since we were four years old? It is so difficult to buy into change if we don’t know why we are making the change. So, when the CEO shoves the new software, procedure or consultant down your throat, there is likely to be resistance, unless it is clearly explained. What are the benefits? Cost reduction? Time saved from using the new procedure? Be able to clearly spell out the new initiative to everyone affected. Sometimes company leadership can think that everything has been clearly communicated, when it really was just a few managers talking over lunch and the rationale had not been widely disseminated. Be sure to share the rationale to as wide an audience as possible.
- Make it personal. Communicate with all those affected (and it’s likely to be more than you think). It probably makes sense to talk one-on-one with each person affected. It’s important to feel out how the initiative will affect each individual on a personal basis. “Suzie, it seems like this new initiative might affect your work schedule. What are your thoughts on that?” “Everyone in purchasing will have to spend at least 2 more hours on month end procedures. How will that affect you?” “Who else do you think might be affected by this?” This can be difficult for managers who prefer “Command and Control” ideology of the 60’s and 70’s. You may have to actually write a script of questions to get over the feeling of being vulnerable and open to input.
- Highlight the benefits but don’t mask the obvious obstacles. As Mike Moore wrote in his article “How to Implement Change in the Workplace Without Sending Your Staff to a Psychiatrist”: “Stress how the proposed change will benefit your employees. When people begin to perceive a forthcoming change as a definite benefit to them and when they feel a sense of ownership in the process they more eagerly participate in, welcome and adapt to any changes made. Ownership and participation are essential.” Everyone wants to know What’s in it for me? It is important not to oversell the new change, as it can fall flat if it does not fully deliver the intended benefits.
- Have everyone weigh in, so they buy in. This is a tenet of Patrick Lencioni in his book, 5 Dysfunctions of the Team. This is one of the reasons why I suggest talking to affected folks one-on-one. People who are more introverted might be too shy to bring up some important information. They also might not want to disagree with their manager, especially in public. If you ask for help in the implementation, you are more likely to foster an environment for new ideas. No one knows better about a process or procedure than the folks or customer who actually use it. It’s better to get too much information than not enough. Implementation is easier and more effective if all the stakeholders have weighed in.
- Use their ideas first. For years, I have counseled managers to use their employee’s idea, if at all practical. The reason is that they will make sure it works if it is their idea. As David Rock has espoused, “Giving advice shuts a person’s brain down” unless they have asked for advice. If someone seeks advice, it’s welcome. If you ask for ideas on implementation, those that weighed in will make sure their idea works. And if it doesn’t? At least you showed them that you respected them enough to use their idea. Try and use their ideas.
- Celebrate even small successes. I’ve seen leaders wait until they attain the profit margin or return on investment before giving out any kudos. It’s just like getting your 11-month-old to walk or a puppy to be house broken–you need to celebrate the small successes. We had a 10% increase in sales over last month. We didn’t have anyone call customer service today for trouble shooting. We filled all the orders without a single error today. As David Rock espouses. “Our brains work better in the toward state or positive state.” If all we do is look at what went wrong, our employees will be less engaged. Less empowered. Celebrate success to keep the forward motion.
Resistance to change is all just based on fear of the unknown. Keeping an open dialogue and an open mind can help everyone row in the same direction.