If you’ve ever tried to implement organizational change, you’ll readily believe that it can cause as much stress in the workplace as personal problems like divorce and relocations. It can even cause employees to mistrust leadership and look for other jobs.
An APA study reported in Business News Daily found that workers going through change were four times more likely to have headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and other health problems. They also smoked and overate more during the workday to deal with the stress.
The study found that during an organizational shift, almost 30% of surveyed workers believed management had a hidden agenda behind the change, and 31% believed leadership had a different motive for the change than the one they announced publicly.
But with some careful planning, it doesn’t have to be so disastrous. When it’s time for transformation at your organization, take some tips from leaders who’ve been there.
1. Acknowledge the past.
Janet Ioli of The Mana Group (TMG), LLC recommends honoring the way you’ve done things in the past. Even though the old ways are fading out, they had value for their time.
Acknowledging the past recognizes the contributions of people who implemented those processes rather than dismissing them as irrelevant.
2. Build on the momentum of your supporters.
Michelle Braden of MSBCoach, LLC advises leaders to identify the early adopters and channel their enthusiasm to others.
3. Listen to feedback about how the change is working.
When you put new processes into action, it may not go exactly as you plan. Solicit and listen to feedback from the field so you can adjust when needed.
4. Understand the process of change.
Debora McLaughlin, The Renegade Leader Coaching & Consulting Group points out, “Leaders who understand change leadership vs. change management script out the language to enroll, engage and equip employees for the change.”
Get to know the phases of implementation and adjustment so you can guide your team through it.
5. Create certainty.
George R. Boggs, Ph.D. and Christine Johnson McPhail, Ph.D. discuss the need for management to be as transparent as possible about your plans for implementation.
If employees know what’s ahead, they worry less. It helps if you’ve built trust with your team ahead of time.
6. Explain the reasons.
Leadership coach Brent Gleeson has seen technology rollouts fail because management didn’t explain the reasons for the change. When people understand the purpose, new ideas are more acceptable.
7. Define accountability.
Gleeson also points out it’s important to make sure everyone understands which parts of the new process they own and how they’ll be responsible for its implementation.
8. Make change carefully.
Employees get jaded when changes come without any real benefit or changes are adopted fast then unwound fast when they prove not to work. If you’re contemplating a new initiative, pilot it first to ensure results.
9. Use coaching.
Provide targeted coaching to help people adjust. Coaching helps individuals channel their energy into figuring out how to work with the change instead of resisting it or feeling helpless.
10. Use humor where possible.
Organizational psychologist Nick Tasler advises leaders to make fun of their own difficulties in adjusting which can make others feel better. We all feel awkward when we’re learning something new; leaders can build empathy by sharing their own struggles.
11. Acknowledge emotions, but focus on practical problems and solutions.
Tasler also points out that stress is normal and emotions will run high. It’s good to acknowledge emotions but spend most of your time on practical steps to ease the stress.
12. Relate the change to corporate values.
Explain how the new policy supports the company’s culture and mission, and if possible, explain how it’s consistent with other initiatives so people can see that it’s part of the bigger picture.
13. Make room for experimentation and failure.
Make sure people can try out new steps safely. Give them the time to practice and encourage a sense of curiosity.
14. Frequent, consistent, and 2-way communication.
Scott Guinn, director of financial and HR solutions for Anaplan says, “Communication requires frequent checking in with employees with messages and feedback. Everyone should know the organization’s vision; it’s a key for success. With effective communication and frequent messages, everyone realizes that change isn’t necessarily bad.”
15. Don’t encourage negative attitudes.
Susan Heathfield, HR writer at The Balance, advises giving people adequate time to adjust but preventing those who remain negative from bringing down morale.
16. Reward participation in the change.
Heathfield also acknowledges the need to reward new behaviors in reviews, recognition, and bonus structures.
17. Be trustworthy.
Follow through on what you say you’re going to do and don’t make promises you can’t back up. Creating a falsely rosy picture will do more harm than good in the long run.
18. Trial new technology for ease of use.
Samatha Taylor of Webdam identifies clunky usability as a big reason why 75% of technology rollouts fail. If your new system is just hard to use, people will resist more. And you’re making their lives worse in the end.
Run pilots with end users so you can iron out bugs before the rollout.
19. Ensure new processes make it easier for people to do their jobs.
If regulations or compliance mean you have to add processes which are more cumbersome, get employees’ input on how it could be handled with the least impact on them.
20. Track the results of your change.
Management Consultant Collin Andrews writes about the importance of measurement in assessing and promoting your change.
Before rolling out any change, decide how you’ll measure success. Then take the measurements and be open about the benefits so people can see their hard work is paying off.
21. Stay positive and relentless.
From Cathy McCullough of McCullough Group LLC, while others are grumbling, leaders need to continue communicating the positive and recognizing progress.
22. Check your expectations.
Don’t make assumptions about how the change will go – good or bad. Just deal with whatever happens without making value judgements.
The reason? Value judgements could keep you from identifying the best way to deal with whatever situation you’re facing. You don’t have time to get over disappointed expectations; you have to solve problems.
23. Offer training and resources.
Helping people feel ready and confident about being able to handle the change lowers the fear and uncertainty. Consider informal and hands-on learning options so you don’t have to organize formal classes.
24. Take baby steps.
Leo Babauta, author of The Habit Guide, recommends taking any change in small steps. It lowers resistance and fear. Then you can stack up a string of small differences into a big one.
25. Hire for adaptability.
Most job descriptions today focus on technical skills and experience over the ability to learn and adapt, but it’s becoming more and more important to find people who can learn tomorrow’s technology. Because you can’t hire for that today.
26. Teach employees how to learn.
Many people think that reading an instruction list or attending a workshop is all people need to learn something new, but it takes patience and practice to turn unfamiliar behaviors into a comfortable old habit.
Erika Andersen, author of Be Bad First suggests teaching employees how to accept and work through that adjustment period rather than giving up because they “just don’t get it.”
27. Make change an expectation.
People tend to assume that whatever is happening now will go on forever. I once had a boss who made a point to tell his team that no matter how good or bad things seem now, it will change.
He advised us to enjoy what we love about our jobs but to be ready for an inevitable shift. When the new order did come, I wasn’t crushed.
28. Focus on one change at a time.
Melissa Jones, vice president of human resources at CSAA Insurance Group, writes, “Employees want to be aligned and want to do the right thing for their organization, but you risk confusing or disengaging them if there are too many organizational change priorities in play at one time.”
29. Bring on the peer pressure.
Colleagues may be the best persuaders for keeping others on track.
A Harvard Business Review study of hand washing in hospitals found that the most effective ways to get everyone regularly washing their hands was for the employees to hold each other accountable. It worked better than cash incentives or signs.
30. Set and keep clear priorities.
Change can sometimes pit priorities against each other. When priorities aren’t clear, people get uncomfortable and feel they can’t win.
Leadership has to set direction and be willing to back up those who act accordingly.
31. Set up the change to deliver quick wins.
If possible, ensure that employees see some benefits very fast. Implement easier changes first and celebrate the successes before tackling bigger ones.
What’s your favorite technique for easing the transition through change?