Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, coined the phrase, “change is the only constant in life.” Still, despite this centuries-old piece of wisdom, most of us continue to be caught off guard by change, in both our personal lives and in the workplace. Workplace change comes in various forms: an HR system update, a merger to improve inter-department efficiency, the closing of a handful of branch locations, or the launch of a new product.
Workplace change isn’t inherently “good” or “bad,” but any change can frustrate employees when it’s not managed well. Part of managing any change – whether it’s generally positive, negative, or neutral – is working to build consensus and foster an understanding of the change. In other words, embracing change in the workplace starts with the people.
Change can be hard for everyone, especially when something comfortable or familiar will be impacted. No matter what the change is, employees often have similar questions. Why change a process I’m already good at? Why are we changing this tool when there are several others that are more frustrating to work with? I’ve done my job the same way for ten years, why are you changing it now?
This resistance to change varies by person and circumstance, so it’s important to humanize change by putting yourself in the mindset of your people.
- Lend a listening ear. Take time to connect with employees and hear their concerns. Resistance to change is often rooted in concerns about job security or future performance. Taking the time to get to the root of the concern will enable you to be a more effective communicator and proactively address questions.
- Emphasize the positives. After identifying the cause of resistance, promote the positive benefits of change on an individual level. Being able to answer the inevitable, “What’s in this for me?” will go a long way in encouraging people to embrace the change. For example, if an employee has a fear that most of their day-to-day actions may be replaced by a robust technology system, you can highlight the fact they will be able to complete their current tasks faster. This will create more time to learn new skill sets that will make them even more valuable to their teams.
Creating a Company Culture of Change
A company’s culture is typically rooted in a shared set of values and can be seen in the daily practices that define the employee experience. Making change a positive aspect of this company culture can help people at all levels of the organization feel comfortable with, and even excited about, new processes and technologies as they’re implemented. Companies can make change a part of their culture in various ways.
- Align company values with the spirit of change. For example, innovation can be one of a company’s values. Innovation encourages new ideas, experimentation and, ultimately, change. Continuous improvement is another example of a value that signals change while promising that any new decisions will be made in the best interest of employees and the organization.
- Build a comfortable learning environment. Encouraging change starts by providing safe spaces for employees to try something new. Consider interest groups and mock projects that allow employees to learn about other areas in the company, practice new skill sets, and feel comfortable taking time to get it right. Another way to foster a learning environment is to create career development paths that enable employees to work across departments, giving them a chance to periodically change job responsibilities and feel constant growth in their careers.
- Provide outlets for feedback. Providing forums for employees to voice questions, concerns, or suggestions can encourage innovation and enable company leadership to communicate transparently.
Embracing Change in the Workplace at the Leadership Level
Companies can humanize change and create cultures of change, but they need one more piece of the puzzle to really help employees embrace change: leadership buy-in.
- Establish a clear vision. Employees look to their leaders to define goals, create the strategic roadmap, provide guidance, and own the vision for the future. If the vision for the organization is unclear, it’s impossible for employees to see how change fits into the larger picture of company growth.
- Provide visible change sponsorship. Leadership can set the tone for embracing change by not only motivating their direct reports and advocating for their department’s projects but by becoming change champions for other functions. For example, if a technology department is rolling out a new software that impacts the entire company, having vocal and visible support from the CEO, CFO, and COO can go a long way in building excitement and encouraging adoption. Additionally, different leadership positions can highlight different parts of the value proposition. The CFO might talk about the expected cost savings of this new software, while the COO may speak to the importance of the cross-department communication it enables, while the CEO can provide insight into how the software fits into the five-year strategic plan of the organization.
Change may be constant, but that doesn’t mean creating a culture of change happens quickly. Effective change management requires intentional steps to create a positive environment for change adoption. Fill out the form below to connect with one of our consultants to talk about what those steps might look like at your company.