Change is a word that generates uneasiness in most of us. But most would agree that we can think of a time we had a good change in our lives. A marriage, the birth of a baby, moving into a new home or a new job are examples of positive changes in our lives. So why is it so difficult to swallow change at work?
For anyone who has ever gone into an organization and tried to change “the way things are” understands the resistance employees can have against any kind of change effort. I worked with an organization and facilitated a class on the book Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Dr. Spencer Johnson. It was sadly comical how resistant staff were to just the mention of change. There was a woman who participated in the training that we later moved from a very small cubicle to a large shared office, with privacy and new furniture. One would have thought she would have been excited about what we thought would be a good change but she viewed it very differently. She was very upset and expressed that she didn’t “like that we moved her cheese”. Ironically, months later she recognized the benefit of the move and thanked us.
This is just a simple example of how seemingly small things for some people are major upsets to others. Some people get set in their ways, get comfortable and resist change because it causes them to undo habitual processes in their lives.
However, successful organizations understand that doing things the same way will produce the same result and that sometimes changing things is needed to take an organization to the next level. So whether it is transitioning to a new software program, new procedures for processing material, office change or a change in benefit plan, change needs to be managed to be successful.
So why do people resist change? Often it is fear of the unknown or perhaps how the change will impact them. When people don’t know all the answers they feel like they have lost control and that makes them feel hopeless. Organizational leaders have the responsibility to manage change efforts to minimize the negative impact on employees.
To effectively manage change efforts, it is important to help people understand what the change will be and the reasons behind the change. The more detailed the communication about the vision for the change, the better employees understand the need and the less resistant they will be to the change.
Steps to implementing change:
1. Management Support for Change
It is critical that management shows support for changes and demonstrates that support when communicating and interacting with staff. Employees develop a comfort level when they see management supporting the process.
2. Case for Change
No one wants to change for change sake, so it is important to create a case for change. A case for change can come from different sources. It can be a result of data collected on defect rates, customer satisfaction survey, employee satisfaction survey, customer comment cards, business goals as a result of a strategic planning session or budget pressures. Using data is the best way to identify areas that need to improve and change initiatives.
3. Employee Involvement
All change efforts should involve employees at some level. Organizational change, whether large or small, needs to be explained and communicated, specifically changes that affect how employees perform their jobs. Whether it is changing a work process, improving customer satisfaction or finding ways to reduce costs, employees have experiences that can benefit the change planning and implementation process. Since employees are typically closest to the process, it is important that they understand the why behind a change and participate in creating the new process.
4. Communicating the Change
Communicating change should be structured and systematic. Employees are at the mercy of management to inform them of changes. When there is poor communication and the rumor mill starts spreading rumors about change, it can create resistance to the change. Being proactive in communications can minimize resistance and make employees feel like they are part of the process.
Once a change is planned, it is important to have good communication about the rollout and implementation of the change. A timeline should be made for the implementation and should make changes in the order that affect the process and the employees who manage the process. An effective timeline will allow for all new equipment, supplies or training to take place before fully implemented. Implementing without a logical order can create frustration for those responsible for the work process.
Whenever a change is made it is always good to follow-up after implementation and assess how the change is working and if the change delivered the results that were intended. Sometimes changes exceed target expectations but there are occasions that changes just don’t work as planned. When this is the case, management should acknowledge that it didn’t work and make adjustments until the desired result is achieved.
7. Removing Barriers
Sometimes employees encounter barriers when implementing changes. Barriers can be with other employees, other departments, inadequate training, lacking equipment or supply needs. Sometimes management also needs to deal with resistant employees. It is management’s responsibility to ensure that employees can implement change without obstacles and resistance. Unfortunately, sometimes employees need to move on in order to successfully implement a needed change.
It is important to celebrate successes along the way as changes are made. Celebrating the small changes and building momentum for bigger changes are what makes employees want to participate in the process.
When employees understand why a change is made and are part of the process for planning and implementing the change, it allows for a better chance for successful implementation.