Human beings are progressive animals — we constantly learn, grow, and change. We find new ways of doing old things and we invent new things to do. This constant evolution affects every area of life, including business.
While change is often the catalyst for growth and improvement, it’s also a source of stress and uncertainty. Role changes, location changes, new management, downsizing, upscaling, even changes in policies and procedures can throw off employee equilibrium. Staff members often view significant organizational change with fear, suspicion, and sometimes resentment. Too often, they misunderstand the reasons behind corporate change and feel compelled to jump ship.
Sherry Scott, president of Gagen MacDonald, a strategy execution firm specializing in employee engagement says, “When employees become overwhelmed or bogged down by change fatigue, it can hamper an entire organization’s ability to function. In fact, an estimated 70 percent of change efforts fail outright—often due to employee resistance.”
What can you do to keep your team intact when change becomes necessary? Proper planning and communication will be your most important strategies.
To keep your employees from feeling ambushed, don’t let major changes drop on them like a bomb from the clear blue sky. Plan ahead, and make the changes in logical increments. Transitioning in phases wherever possible allows your team to get used to the new normal one step at a time. It keeps them from feeling like everything they were used to has come crashing down all at once, which can lead to widespread panic.
Harvard Business School recommends you integrate change as a three-step process:
- Preparation – communicating the need for change and outlining the vision
- Implementation – effecting changes in a logical progression consistent with the company’s vision
- Follow-through – collecting feedback and finding ways to embed the change as a new part of company culture
Communicate, communicate, communicate! Remember, communication involves both speaking and listening. Begin by communicating to your team the company’s need for the proposed changes. Express your enthusiasm for it and explain the benefits you expect the company to reap. Then, listen. Get their feedback. Demonstrate understanding and compassion if they express unease. When they know you have heard them, you can go about the process of alleviating their concerns.
Communication should be an integral part of the change process from preparation through follow-through. One way you might consider keeping the communication lines open is through ongoing training meetings. Because the meetings will likely be frequent, consider hosting them virtually to avoid continually calling people away from their offices, especially if your team is spread out geographically.
Establish a safe virtual learning environment where employees feel free to express their concerns. Jigsaw Interactive’s virtual training software can make it easy for you to set up frequent Q&A sessions to will your employees in the loop and help them know what to expect. It will give you the opportunity for effectively training them on new policies, procedures, technology, etc. And you will be able to gather analytics from these sessions to help you know how best to proceed.
Proper planning and communication in advance of changes can help reassure employees, get them involved, and secure their loyalty to work through the changes for a stronger, more profitable company.