A great many studies, articles, seminars, webinars and presentations exist to tell you, the manager, how to prepare for rapid change. Very few of these look at change management from the employees’ point of view, and frankly, that is the perspective you have to focus on. The reason is simple: if you can’t get the employees to change in the direction you want, the change won’t happen.
So, preparing for rapid change management has to include preparing your workforce for it. Most people don’t like change in the workplace (or any other place for that matter). We get comfortable, we perform well, and everyone is happy. Ask us to change, and suddenly, we are nervous, performance can suffer, and happiness is a thing of the past.
Explaining Things Matters
One of the first things a change management effort needs to do is explain why change is necessary. If you go to an employee and say, “change how you do things,” the immediate assumption is that the job isn’t being done well, and morale starts to suffer. Far more effective is to tell everyone in the company why you are changing things. And by the way, if you can’t explain it, you probably don’t know what you are trying to achieve in the first place.
Start with, “Our company has to change because . . . .” Then, you need to explain what you are going to change. “We used to do X, Y and Z. We will now do A, B and C, as well as X and Y, but Z is out.” If one department only does X, tell them the whole story anyway. It is best if every employee understands, for example, that marketing is undergoing a major revolution that will barely touch the way legal operates. That can help those on the legal side be more understanding of pressures the marketing department faces, and inter-departmental coordination becomes easier.
There is one more issue that every employee deserves to know. How will these changes actually achieve the goals we want accomplished? Putting myself in the employees’ shoes for a moment: you (the manager) are asking me to change how I do things, and you have told me what the company wants to do. But if I don’t see how the changes I make get us to where we want to go, I probably won’t be an effective change agent. If I have to go through some readjustments, I am less likely to resist if I understand how my different behavior benefits the whole company, and presumably me.
Avoid Top-Down Transformations
One of the companies I used to work for (which will remain nameless for obvious reasons) tried going through a massive change under the leadership of a Chief Transformation Officer. This wasn’t her exact title, but that was her function. She and her staff were responsible for change. Six months later, our stock had plummeted, the change had not been implemented, and many staff members were let go. Hiring someone to oversee the change is nowhere near as effective as recruiting current staff to change themselves. Get a few people in each department to be change ambassadors, and you won’t need a Department of Transformation.
Another fake solution is relying too heavily on technology. Hardware and software cannot replace human beings for everything (yet). It is tempting to engage in change management by eliminating the human factor, but it plain doesn’t work.
Change Management Requires Two-Way Communication
I have, however, saved the most important thing for last. Communication needs to be a two-way street in change management. Don’t just tell your employees that change is coming and they need to adapt. The people who do a job day in and day out probably can tell you how to improve things if you ask them. Never create a change plan without finding out how your people are currently doing things and soliciting their ideas. When people talk about “my job,” there is a sense of ownership. Use that sense of pride to everyone’s advantage.
Speaking again from experience, nothing can improve the way employees embrace change more than for their ideas to be incorporated into the grand scheme of things. Imagine a kitchen table conversation of one of your employees who can brag, “They listened to my idea and they liked it. We’re going to do things differently from now on.” That will be the most engaged worker you’ve ever had and the most effective ambassador for change in the department. You can keep your employee of the month, your pizza Fridays and everything else. Nothing comes close to “they listened to me.”