Whether you’re introducing a new initiative or about to launch a new product or perhaps you’ve identified that there are mistakes happening with the processing of orders or duplication of effort – dealing with the demands of change is the biggest challenge facing every business today.
Walk any ten-year old through your home and point out everything that didn’t exist when you were their age. You will find lots of examples where we have updated/upgraded things in our home as we have felt that any such change will make our life better or make us more comfortable.
Change confronts and challenges our ability…
When change is at our behest, we always feel more comfortable and in control and yet in your business, you will almost certainly see more change in the next three years than in the last five. Change confronts and challenges our ability to create value for customers, keep our employees engaged and remain relevant in our market sector.
In light of its importance, where do you start and how do you ensure that you manage this process effectively?
Of course, managing change in the workplace isn’t as simple as implementing some revolutionary change management model. If it was that easy then anyone could do successfully implement it so here are some simple key principles that you should also ensure that you consider:
First, it is vital that managers understand how to engage their team, and lead the business and collaborating around change. Businesses must consistently identify and resolve critical change issues, innovate the way they work and find new and different ways to grow and often that involves utilising a key part of their business that gives them competitive advantage which is their team.
Responsibility for managing change is with management and executives of the organisation – they must manage the change in a way that employees can cope with it. The manager has a responsibility to facilitate and enable change, and all that is implied within that statement, especially to understand the situation from an objective standpoint (to ‘step back’, and be non-judgemental), and then to help people understand reasons, aims, and ways of responding positively according to employees’ own situations and capabilities. Increasingly the manager’s role is to interpret, communicate and enable – not to instruct and impose, which nobody really responds to well.
Process, skills and tools
You need a process, skills and tools. An effective process, centred around driving change and growth, may also employ tools such as small working groups that are championed by line managers to drive a specific issue to a conclusion. Effective managers establish meaningful communication and engagement with their people (like many things in life, this is always easier to talk about than it is to do) as a key part of rolling out change initiatives with a team or across an organisation.
In doing so, these managers understand the barriers that block change and the emotions that are experienced during any change process, such as how people react to change, why people resist change, what motivates people to change and what people need to know in order to embrace change. But why is all that stuff important? Because action (change) is always preceded by dissatisfaction; comfortable people have no motivation, urgency or tolerance for change. So if people, at any level, perceive that the results they are achieving today are ‘good or good enough’ (reality is irrelevant, it’s what people perceive that counts) then they will resist the change, no matter how compelling its benefits may be to some.
For these reasons, managers who tell rather than sell, who force change on people can irreparably damage morale and productivity. The manager who knows how to influence positive change however will have much greater success in seamlessly introducing new initiatives and maintaining a workforce that’s connected and committed/engaged, to helping the business achieve its objectives.
Understanding how change affects people
Before considering any change initiative, managers must appreciate how change affects employees – both how readily they will accept the change and the emotional ‘pain’ that always accompanies change.
By understanding the interplay of these psychological issues with the actual change, managers will ensure that they concentrate on the objectives of the change (not the problems) and increase their ability to effectively implement change.
Managers need to be able to gauge how readily their people will embrace change. There will be those who are prepared to take a leap of faith because they are risk-takers or they have higher levels of trust in the leadership of the organisation. Conversely, there are some people who can exhibit more resistance to change, partly because they require more time to analyse and digest information. It is important to be able to understand where the team are on this spectrum so that you can ensure that you adapt your approach and style to each person.
Do not ‘sell’ change to people as a way of accelerating ‘agreement’ and implementation. ‘Selling’ change to people is not a sustainable strategy for success. When people listen to a senior management person ‘selling’ them a change, decent diligent folk will generally smile and appear to accept what is being said, but quietly to themselves they are thinking, “I don’t like this. I’ve not been consulted or involved. I am being manipulated. This change will benefit the directors and owners, not me, so actually I won’t cooperate, and I might resist and obstruct this change, in every way that I can.” And that’s just the amenable types – more forceful employees will embark on a more serious transition from solid employee to an organisational terrorist!
There’s no ‘good’ or ‘right’ end of this spectrum, only differences. What’s important for managers to consider, however, is where each of their people lies on the spectrum so that they can address them accordingly. That’s why all of your people need to understand and engaged with, any change initiative – managing resistance to change is an essential aspect of this framework – and it helps to understand who you will need to spend more time with to deal with their objections.
Managers must also understand the emotional ‘pain points’ associated with change. Any of these may cause people to hesitate in embracing a change initiative, or in resisting it altogether. These mind-sets can include:
- People experience discomfort
Change requires people to do something new, and that often forces them outside their comfort zone. So everyone experiences discomfort to some degree, but the anxious the person is, the more discomfort they feel.
- People feel they need to give something up
When change is initially introduced, people usually view it in the context of their current situation. This means they only consider what they must give up, not what they may gain. In order to balance this, managers must position the change as a vehicle that will help them grow and fulfil their own objectives.
- People feel alone
Often people will feel as though change requires them to go through it alone, that they must be a pioneer and take a risk. But as humans, we want to be part of a winning team or group. Therefore, managers must ensure that their people never feel as though they’re working in isolation. Instead, the change should be positioned as a team effort that will be supported 100% by management.
What motivates employees to change?
By understanding these mind-sets, managers will appreciate how they come together to form the basic motivations of change.
First, action (change) is always preceded by dissatisfaction. That’s because pain – such as any combination of the three mind-sets of change – is always involved in change. So without a source of dissatisfaction, people will have no motivation to bear the pain. And even then when people are dissatisfied, if it’s not significant enough, they’ll still bear the pain of the status quo rather than face the pain of change!
Second, in order for people to embrace change, the benefits must outweigh the pain. Note that these are perceived benefits based on management’s communication to the team. So just because the manager believes in the change, or because senior management believes in the change, people won’t commit to the change until they believe that the benefits outweigh the pain.
What do people need to know to embrace change?
Change is rarely easy to implement because people almost always think that their current situation is good or at least good enough. Perhaps things at the moment aren’t great, but as long as people think they’re good or good enough, they won’t have sufficient tolerance for change. So how can managers implement change when their people think that things are good or good enough as they are? You have essentially two options:
- Attack what they’re doing now
In other words, managers can try to increase the perceived pain that their people currently feel. For example: “I know you think you’ve been doing well, but you’re mistaken.” We don’t recommend this approach. When you attack what people are doing now, you’re attacking their intelligence, their confidence, their professional skills and their abilities. You’re attacking them personally, and people resist this very quickly.
- Offer an alternative that provides greater benefits
In this case, managers increase the perception of benefits – the fulfilment of personal objectives – that will come from the change. If people truly believe that the change can help them achieve their goals, then they’ll embrace it.
How to implement change in the workplace – the three questions to answer
To effectively lead change, managers must help people satisfactorily answer three questions that people will ask themselves when it’s introduced:
- What is the change?
- Why is the change being made?
- How will the change affect me?
Too often, we find that when managers introduce change, they only share the ‘what’. When people press them for more information, such as when asked for the ‘why’, managers will sometimes answer with a ‘who’. For example, “because someone said so.” People will never fully embrace change when its dictated with little or no reasoning, let alone when a non-specific answer such as this makes it sound as though you have no idea of the ‘why’ yourself! If managers are to get people to embrace and commit to change, they must ensure that they answer the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.
An important note on answering the ‘how’: a manager’s first instinct is usually to provide an advantage that relates to their people’s work, such as “it will help you be more productive”. But just as people want their jobs to be made easier, they also need to win personally. So be sure to not only give them a work-related win but also a personal win, something that will make them feel good about themselves.
Using face-to-face communications to handle sensitive aspects of organisational change management is critical. Often there is a heavy reliance on email and / or written notices but these are extremely weak and helping to check for understanding of key messages. It is also a poor way to develop a level of trust that needs to be in place when effecting change. People will want to have faith and confidence that the future is going to be stronger and brighter after the change.
Managing change effectively requires that you understand how people think
As we started out, leading change requires managers juggle a host of psychological factors: how people think, how they perceive their current situation, how they will perceive a new change, etc. In fact, one could argue that the actual process of communicating the change is the easiest part of all.
Understanding how and why people think the way that they do, and make the decisions they make is why many organisations lean on their HR teams when it comes to implementing change. They recognise that they need to have their expertise to deal with the psychological impact that change can have when you are trying to shift people’s thinking, decisions, and their behaviours.
To ensure the success of any change initiative, the lion’s share of a manager’s effort should go first towards thoughtful planning and sensitive implementation, considering how your people will perceive the change, planning and structuring your communication strategy accordingly and practicing your plan. When you’re confident in your rationale and delivery then you’re in a position to present it to your team.
How we can support your change process
At MAD-HR we know that things change. Your business changes. It’s identity and plans change. Defining your strategic vision is vital if you are going to grow and achieve, taking your team with you. MAD-HR provide strategic HR consultancy services to help you do just that. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation (and we mean that), discussion to see how we can fit into your business. Whether it’s for now, for later or for the long haul, feel free to call us. Simply, book your time in here.
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