All companies are going through changes at some stage of their existence, whether it is an operational reorganization that fundamentally changes the functions of all employees, or dismissal of part of the workforce, or a change of a few managers.
Any deviation from standard activities usually throws company operations off-balance, reduces employee productivity, and adversely affects the overall atmosphere.
Change experts talk about managing them in a few key steps: identifying the causes of a change, its goal, defining risks, clarifying what will be done and what will not in order to implement the change, what result will be considered as successful, how long will it take to achieve it, how will the progress be measured.
In fact, initiating change without these components is a no go. This time I am sharing personal lessons, learned when communicating changes, that can be useful to both the managers who are implementing the change and the PR people who usually receive the task of presenting it most engagingly.
It may sound like a banal piece of advice taken from a textbook, but it is the first step when thinking about “selling” the changes in the company. Perhaps the reason for the change is poor performance? Or maybe ineffective work? Maybe work processes were unclear so far, and now it is time to clarify them?
Having identified the causes, the main goal becomes clear too. Then during the change, it is easier to make decisions once we know the clear direction we are headed.
Changes are usually presented as a bright future: it will be easier to work, clearer responsibilities, and more profit earned. However, during the period of changes, that bright future is the least people think about. Since changes usually mean going out of your comfort zone, then, naturally, stress, anxiety, doubts appear, and sometimes even the thoughts of changing your workplace.
For this reason, in the face of a change, it is best not only to discuss the positive consequences of a change but also to recognize the fact that change always means stress, and try to imagine the worst possible case scenario. If the managers have difficulties coming up with it, it is useful to ask the employees – what raises the biggest concerns, what worst can happen? Then you can start discussing how the occurred situation will be solved, what managers can do about it, what employees themselves can do to reduce stress, to make it clearer how work will be done from now on, etc.
As I have mentioned before, introduced changes usually bring confusion, uncertainty, and in order to alleviate it, it often seems obligatory to have answers to all the employees’ questions. On the other hand, it is common that when the situation is changing, it becomes difficult and sometimes even impossible to anticipate everything. This is why it is important to make sure there will always be unanswered questions, so there is no need to waste your energy in trying to find answers to all of the questions.
In this case, it is useful admitting to ourselves and to the employees that we do not know all the answers, but we do have a clear direction that we are not changing, and we will find all the necessary answers along the way.
Often, as a change takes place, it is focused on the benefits it will bring to the company: making more money, easier to identify the causes of problems, increasing customer satisfaction, and so on. However, it is also useful to think about each person (or, if there are many people, about the ones performing different functions) who are affected by the change. In other words, put yourself in his/her shoes and think about the personal benefit this change will bring, what questions might arise and what he/she may be worried about. Perhaps change will open up clearer opportunities for improvement? Or maybe it will help to evaluate each individual’s input to the result more clearly?
This helps not only to anticipate the risks that may prolong the phase of change acceptance but also to present the change in a more positive way to others.
Naturally, when introducing a change, its initiators already have a plan for how things will go. However, since the change affects certain people and sometimes the entire organization, it is worth hearing out, how everyone involved, sees it. If the change affects people performing a particular function, they may have ideas on how to implement the change in a way that will affect daily work as little as possible.
It is surely worth listening to the suggestions, choosing the right ones, and if you hear a wrong idea, it is necessary to explain why it will not be considered.
As it was mentioned, the implementation of change brings many questions to which we may not have immediate answers. Without them, people often feel unsafe, anxious, and stressed what eventually can lead to poor performance. This is why it is worthwhile to gather and provide feedback and hold meetings where all emerging issues would be discussed.
Let’s agree on how often and in what groups these meetings will take place and keep this consensus during change implementation.
When the change is introduced, and its implementation has started, it enters a phase of confusion, which leads to poor performance, negative internal culture, etc. Such consequences can be reduced by involving workers in the implementation of the change, considering their suggestions, organizing regular meetings with the employees, and accepting feedback. Another way is to measure “temperature” and discuss its results regularly. One of the common examples is to simply ask your employees to assess their emotions from 1 to 10 how they feel about the change.
All this allows us to objectively evaluate how the company responds to changes, how that reaction changes over time and to understand when the confusion is over, and when the phase of acceptance begins.