Managing change in the workplace
— February 8th, 2019
Every company at some point in its life cycle faces the prospect of change. In fact, you could say that change is the only constant. When we sit back and think about it, change occurs every day, from the largest weather front to the smallest meal plan. But what does it mean for your business, and how do we facilitate change in an effective way?
The cusp of change
Some people fear change, and some people embrace it. Some are enthusiastic and ahead of the curve, while some are resistant and slow to adapt. When a company is on the cusp of change, be it a slow integrative period or a cold, sudden takeover, it's important to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Sudden change, especially one that is likely to disrupt a comfortable routine, often brings about feelings of discomfort and anxiety.
As Workfront CEO Eric Morgan writes, when faced with change “it's human nature to immediately descend into fear and doubt.” It's not always easy to put ourselves in the shoes of other people's uncertainty, however, with the right management principles we can learn to anticipate how our teams and employees will react, and how we can formulate a plan to facilitate the transition.
Changing the landscape
Handled correctly, change can be a wonderful thing for your organization and your workforce. Handled poorly it can be the beginning of the end, and the long road to employee dissatisfaction and mistrust. Elements of change are essential and occur throughout our lives.
We get older, wiser. Our situations change. Likewise, business and business practices evolve, too. Sometimes this occurs because of a specific inadequacy or need, and sometimes it can be as a reaction to competition and consumer trends. When implementing a change in either the business or the workplace, it is essential to be transparent and approachable given the needs of a diverse and varied team.
As Workfront's Eric Morgan continues, “there's no one-size-fits-all solution, and there's no predictable timeline for when everyone will be enthusiastically on board.” As such, learning to deal with change and the ways in which your team adapt can be a two-way street, one which involves listening to and understanding concerns as well as leading from the front.
Adapting to change
People adapt at different rates. Some people are faster than others. By being transparent and welcoming questions, you can pre-empt feelings of discomfort and negativity that may arise due to an uncertain future. It's crucial to listen to any concerns during this period, be open and act accordingly so as not to enforce misplaced resistance that may have built up since hearing the news.
Joyce E.A. Russell, writing for the Washington Post, states that “getting people to go along with the program often depends on how the change is communicated.” It's this element of communication that is key to ensuring a smooth transition when implementing new policies or practices in the workplace. People are generally happier when they feel informed, and a happy team makes for an easier, less traumatic transition.
Changing the conversation
Without a doubt, your biggest asset when dealing with change is clarity. If you can communicate in a clear and effective way, and impart what you're intending to do and how you're proposing to do it with clarity, then half of the battle is won. Being transparent and open is essential when asking employees to buy into something new, and keeping your colleagues informed and in the loop is equally essential for a happy and cohesive team.
The very idea of change can unsettle people. It's your responsibility to stay ahead of the curve by showing optimism and introducing new elements that signpost that change. If your team are aware of change looming on the horizon and you've already dropped the bomb, think about following up with regular updates that both evolve the scenario and emphasize the positive aspects of that transition. Creating a buzz in the workplace is one way to assuage any fears that may arise and, when it comes down to it, creating an environment that encourages team members to be inspired by change, rather than unsettled by it, is a no-brainer.
Changing your mind
Even though we all adapt and react in our own ways, at our own speeds, it's worth noting that the process which our brains go through is remarkably consistent from person to person. You can think of it as being similar to the 'five stages of grief', whereupon the subject goes through stages of denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. By comparison, the human mind processes change in a similar, step-by-step way, known as the change cycle. It's perhaps a good investment to be aware of not only your team's individual progress through this cycle but your own, too.
Being aware of the way your employees feel on a case by case basis, anticipating their needs and putting yourself in their position, can go a long way towards calming minds and assuaging fears. When considering the best principles for effectively managing workplace-based change, cast an eye towards the future, and inspire a culture that embraces change, rather than one that fears it.