Embracing change in the workplace

Do you have strategies in place to help employees maximize the transition process?

Change is inevitable, and it happens all around us. In the business world, how employees deal with these inevitable transformations can either help a company grow or hold progress back.

Employees usually handle minor changes well. However, when companies need to make major transformations in order to solve existing problems or to keep in line with sustained growth, employees are more likely to raise concerns for a variety of reasons. These perceived protests often slow down the process and can create problems for a company trying to operate in a new reality, but with some understanding, companies can be better prepared to help employees navigate change.

Recently, while working with a group of managers whose company was in the midst of a transition that was impacting their employees’ personal lives, we identified a variety of challenges everyone was facing and implemented strategies to successfully navigate through the transition period.

As positive team members, some may want to quickly jump on board when learning the company is shifting course. However, most people need time to process what is happening and how it will affect them, personally and professionally, before they can be fully invested in the process.

Typically, our brains need to understand all the components of a new plan before moving forward. What is changing and why? How will I be affected personally and professionally? What is the end goal? Has the transition process been thoroughly planned with challenges proactively addressed? What are my roles during each phase? How will this affect my professional relationships?

Managers sometimes complain that employees aren’t getting on board as quickly as they would like and may view their concerns negatively. However, once employees feel problems have been solved and experience the changes in their company, they will be more likely to be team players and provide positive feedback.

Managers often have the advantage of knowing about upcoming changes for some time before employees are informed and have had time to digest the situation. Therefore, they are one, or many steps, ahead. Employees often simply need time to catch up. Also, they are frequently not part of the decision-making process, which leaves them at a disadvantage when it comes to feeling in control. How can you help them feel they are an important part of the process?

Here are five tips to assist your team in navigating a successful transition:

1. Be realistic: Don’t picture the perfect transition scenario and then struggle when issues arise. A perfect path from “A to B” is highly unlikely. The best planners are those who anticipate challenges, plan for them and prepare for the unexpected. Looking in only one direction leaves you with tunnel vision. Be on the lookout for positive ways to solve problems along the way. Unexpected problems should be viewed as valuable indicators that the plan needs to be adjusted or the company may need to go in a slightly (or totally) different direction.

2. Listen to employees: Use anonymous surveys and frequent meetings to solicit their valuable feedback regarding upcoming changes. Focus on how the changes are affecting them and find ways to help. Showing empathy for their struggles and finding ways to help them — if only emotional support — will be an asset.

3. Communicate often: Send information in writing and include formal and informal discussions to monitor progress and keep the team informed. Employees want to feel included and want opportunities to ask questions and share feedback.

4. Be honest: Honesty allows people to let their guard down and put more effort into being a team player. Employees who sense they are not receiving the honest information they need will be unlikely to invest in the company’s new vision.

5. Make time for fun: Balance major company transitions, requiring extra hours and increased effort, with relaxed down time to keep employees healthy and happy. Employees who balance work with time off are less likely to get sick. Don’t wait until all changes are complete to celebrate — encourage time off, order lunch for the staff and play various team-building games along the way. Encourage staff to take breaks throughout the day to hydrate, refuel and recharge.

Change is inevitable, but you and your employees can be adaptable and receptive to new ideas and processes.

Carol Phillips, owner of Manchester-based Health Design, is the author of “52 Simple Ways to Health” and host of “Ask Coach Carol” on WTPL-FM. She can be reached at HealthDesignNH.com.

Categories: Business Advice