One of the most common calls we get at our company sounds something like this:
We are looking for some training on how to deal with change. Right now our company is undergoing some massive changes and we can’t seem to get the employees onboard with them. Do you provide any workshops that will teach our people to embrace this change?
Now since training only fixes issues with skills, the client assumes it’s a skill problem. It’s not though. Dealing with change as a skill is a reactive approach that can’t be taught once the emotions of the change have set in. Trust me on this. I have done WAY too many of these workshops when I worked with a large training vendor years ago. The best change adaptation tools won’t help if everyone’s attitude sucks. Most of these sessions turned into “bitch sessions” and attendees left worse off for the experience. The key to having a positive reaction to change is to implement it the right way in the first place.
Why is this so?
Any time you introduce a change to your organization, you shift the status quo. It doesn’t matter if the change is an improvement. Rocking the boat freaks people out.
Knowing this will happen regardless (and it’s doesn’t matter if the change is driven from the top either) means you’ll have to spend a huge amount of time planning and anticipating all reactions before you settle on your change initiative.
Based on my experiences with companies that have done it the right and wrong ways, I’d like to offer up five strategies to help your next change effort go over a whole lot better.
Here we go!
1. Communicate Well
In any change effort, communication is key. By being open and up front with people, you’ll be able to fill in gaps of knowledge with real, legitimate information. Here are some suggestions:
Be sure any communication puts information in a positive light. Be very clear about the upcoming changes. Don’t hold back on any small details. Acknowledge the pain, but work to reframe it in a favorable light. (“doing these burpees is going to hurt like hell but imagine how good you’ll look in that Speedo this summer!”)
Allow People an Opportunity to Vent (productively)
We often expect people to handle difficult news professionally, but human nature dictates otherwise. Allow people an opportunity to vent their questions and frustrations. This should be a facilitated event, with professionals keeping the discussion on track. “Bitch sessions” don’t work and often exacerbate the problem. Use good active listening skills and help manage yours, and the emotions of the people around you.
The Grapevine is a tricky issue. 75% of what’s carried on it is usually true, which makes it credible enough to be believed as fact. When you hear rumors, be sure to address them with facts whenever possible. Ignoring rumors gives them credibility.
Empathy (as opposed to sympathy) is a helpful behavior for managers and supervisors. Don’t blow off your employees’ fears. Look at the situation through their eyes. Empathy means you listen intently and offer suggestions and help.
Optimism is an attitude. We have to choose our attitudes. You can’t expect employees to handle change well if you’re giving off negative vibes. Fix your own attitude before you try to fix those of your employees.
Don’t Ignore Your Employees’ Fears and Questions
Again, be willing to dialog with employees. Ask probing questions. Get their feedback. Establish an environment where they feel comfortable coming to you with their uncertainties.
2. Use Good Policies and Procedures
In any large change effort, you’ll need to lock in some really good policies and procedures to leave your supervisors and employees equipped for success.
Clearly Communicate the Program
This builds on Point #1. Let people know as much information as you have to give them. Don’t allow the Grapevine to do your job for you. Refer them to websites and information sessions as much as you can.
Set Up a Support System
If you’re implementing a new program or system, have the program representative take an active role in giving out communication. Set up a portal on your website to link employees to information, training, and send out regular email containing program updates. Equip your managers and supervisors. They have to carry the torch for this program.
Encourage Managers to Have Open Conversations
MACK Worldwide’s Interactive Supervisory Skills courses teach the techniques to have these productive conversations using the principles of active listening and negotiation. Contact us if you are interested in providing this course for your managers and supervisors.
3. Effective Performance Management
Performance management is a critical element of a change effort. Employees are required to show value-added in meeting the company’s goals and mission. Performance management is a constant process that requires a hands-on approach.
Set Clear Expectations
You can’t expect a marksman to hit a target he can’t see. The same applies to employee performance. Your job is to set clear goals and objectives for your employees at the beginning of the cycle and continue to check with them throughout the year. Don’t be vague – your employees need clear communication on your expectations for them.
Link People to the Mission
Do your employees know what your agency or company exists for? If not, educate them! Show them what you’re all about and how their job ties directly into the company’s success. All employees should be evaluated based on their contribution to the mission. Be sure they know what the contribution looks like!
Clearly Communicate Throughout the Year
Traditional performance management gives the goal at the beginning of the cycle and then rewards/punishes a year later. There’s no way to do a course correction in performance if the employee doesn’t know they’ve gone off course. Set regular intervals to check in with your employees and talk about their performance.
Dialog in Person
Don’t give important feedback (good or bad) through email. Let people know up front, in real time. Recognizing good performance verbally encourages more good performance. Addressing poor performance verbally (and professionally) when it happens is much better than waiting until the employee forgets about it.
4. Good and Effective Training
Training is often seen as a panacea for changes, but good training helps facilitate a process through difficult stages. Here are two approaches we recommend change efforts:
These courses should come first. They equip managers and supervisors to have productive conversations with employees and give them initial help in addressing performance issues.
These courses include anything that builds the skills needed in the new change. Be sure to equip employees before expecting them to successfully implement your change.
5. Management Skill Building
Well-prepared and equipped managers and supervisors will ensure your efforts will succeed. Part of this is training and the other part is attitudinal. Here are some suggestions:
Measure Success as What You Do Through and For Your People
This is the leadership component to management. Management in a large part refers to processes and functions but the key element is developing people. Do what you can to build and grow the most important resource you have, your people.
You’ll never learn all there is to know when it comes to dealing with people. People skills are hard to come by and even harder to master. Commit to studying one hour per day on managing and leading people. You spend this much time on technical skills, why not devote it to your people skills?
Managing change is difficult. It’s more difficult when it deals with people and in the way people are paid and evaluated. Keep these five principles as you implement these and other changes in your organization.
If you’d like us to sit down with you and help you think through your upcoming change initiative, just give us a call at (931) 221-2988 and let’s set up some time to chat!