Implementing company change isn’t easy. Just ask any of the high-profile company executives profiled on the TV series, Undercover Boss. Frequently, they find out that a change they championed, a new system or policy is a failure and deflating the organization. The change doesn’t help employees serve customers better, or it makes their jobs even harder.
In fact, the change has the opposite effect of what it was intended to do when not executed effectively.
Do you want to avoid having an Undercover Boss moment in your business? First, it helps to understand how human beings are likely to respond to something new. Then, take the time to learn some basic tools that help leaders manage change.
Why are people afraid of change?
Change threatens our security, and forces us to step out of our comfort zones. And even when the change is positive, and self-initiated, it still comes with both losses and gains.
Think of a person who has adopted a healthier lifestyle. That’s a positive change, right? But they may also lose an extra hour of sleep in order to work out, and may have to eliminate or cut back on some of his favorite, but unhealthy, foods. To reach his goal, he must believe the gains (improving his cholesterol, having more energy) ultimately beat the losses (less time spent sleeping in, restricted food choices).
The same holds true for businesses. Before you implement a change, make sure to articulate the reasons behind the change and as many of the specifics you know about what is changing. Rather than trying to sell the change to employees, recognize that they need to determine the benefits for themselves. Here are some questions to guide you on your change journey:
- Do you have absolute clarity to share what the future looks like?
Give a clear and compelling image of how the change will positively affect the future. For example, a person working on improving her health and fitness might visualize herself effortlessly running a 5K. For your business, the clearer you make the image, the easier it will be for each employee to picture how he or she can fit into the scene you’ve portrayed. As much as leaders would like everyone to just “get on board,” individuals must decide for themselves whether they are willing to do what it takes to be part of that future state.
- Are you ready to discuss why the change is important?
It’s critical that your employees understand what’s driving the change, and why they should get behind it. Some employees will want to know how the change furthers the mission of the company. For others, the reason behind the change may be more practical, such as job security, even if they don’t agree with the change. Bottom-line, the motivation will be unique to each individual. Your organization will benefit from giving employees some time, and support, to make sense of things for themselves.
It’s also very important to engage employees closest to the work that’s going to be affected, and get their input from the start. They will feel invested in the change, and it’s more likely that the right change will be made to achieve the desired results.
Employees also need to know how this round of change is different than those before it. Employees who have lived through countless organizational initiatives may suffer from “change fatigue.” Simply put: They may be tired from previous plans and initiatives that involved a lot of work and didn’t live up to their promise.
- Have you thought about what’s in it for them?
How will the change make work better? Will a new technology help them serve their customers better and make their jobs easier? Will a new emphasis on training help employees sharpen their skills and make them more promotable? Or boost their paycheck? Make the change matter in a personal way.
- Do you know how to execute the change effectively?
If we’re asking people to change, they need to know specifically what they are being asked to do differently as well as how to do it. To become healthier, you need to learn how to eat right and find some exercise that you will commit to. If you’re implementing a new customer contact system, you’ll need to train your employees how to use it, explain how it will help them meet customers’ needs, and give them enough time and resources to be successful.
- Are you ready to provide support?
Let’s go back to the health-kick analogy. People who successfully improve their health rely on systems and structures to keep them on track, such as keeping a set schedule at the gym, or having a running buddy who texts them if they miss workouts.
You can do something similar with your business. Build in support structures, and take care that they don’t conflict with existing systems. For example, let’s say you want your call center reps to spend more time upselling. At the same time, they’re expected to complete calls in 30 seconds or less to meet their call goal. That’s not nearly enough time to sell an add-on service or product. Conflicting goals like these are counterproductive, and set employees up for failure.
- Are your leaders equipped to manage the change?
Change makes all people uneasy — it’s how our brain responds to anything new. Some employees see the change as “no big deal,” while others may worry they won’t be able to adapt. But everyone affected by the change goes through certain phases psychologically as they adjust.
The importance of the front-line leaders is frequently underestimated. They hold up the vision, reinforce key messages, manage conflict and bring people together to uncover concerns and questions. And most importantly, they are responsible for modeling attitudes and actions that will help everyone get to the desired future state.
Also, pay close attention to the company’s culture when crafting your change initiative. If your employees see the company as risk-averse, and you suddenly ask everyone to make quick decisions, you’ve put them in a bind. Despite mandates to “be more agile,” employees are likely to resist disrupting how things are really done around here.
So how did you fare on the questions? If you answered “yes” to most, you’re well on your way to effectively enacting change in your organization. If you answered “no” to any of the questions, you still have some work to do to make sure you and your employees will end up on the same page.