Before you attempt a big change in your company, whether it’s a brand overhaul or a systems change, make sure all who are affected know what you’re doing and why. Keeping your business running smoothly in a transition means addressing the needs of your employees before, during, and after the change. So let’s start at the beginning and work forward.
Change management 101: Before change takes place, open a dialogue
People are creatures of habit and naturally resist changing their routines. Change creates stress, and status quo is comfortable. So setting up the change is important. Give yourself time to announce the change early enough that your employees get used to the idea. Create an open dialogue during which they have the opportunity to ask questions of you, discuss the transition with each other, and make suggestions. Let them know that you’ll be helping them each step of the way and that you’ll make yourself available to them to address their concerns.
Your employees look to you for guidance when things get unfamiliar, and they’ll follow your lead. If you’re excited about the transition and looking forward to the end result, that excitement will be communicated. If you’re hesitant or fearful of the change yourself, they’ll pick up that vibe as well. They’re your team! Be positive. Let them know that you value their expertise and skill and that you’re in it together with them.
Make it safe
According to an article from Inc.com, 4 Reasons Your Employees Resist Change, the reasons why employees resist transitions have to do with feeling secure:
- The need to feel competent: You feel the most secure in your position when you know the ropes inside and out and have your feet firmly planted in confidence that you can do your job well. When a person is thrust into another job or their job description changes dramatically, suddenly, they feel less confident and more unsure of their abilities – less safe.
Think about this when changing your teams mission, culture, or work processes. Some thrive on new challenges, while others feel vulnerable. For them, change means learning new skills and giving up the things they’ve become good at.
- The fear of failure: We all fear failure. It makes some hesitate, and for others it can lead to complete immobility. Change easily draws out an individuals fears; fear that they’ll mess up and look bad.But also, people fear what comes with failure: being laid off, not getting promoted, missing out on a bonus, etc. It’s your job to understand this fear and be sympathetic to it. There will be mistakes during transition, so let your employees know that you understand this, and that you’re willing to accept some stumbling along the way. It’s up to you to create a safe learning environment and remind employees that this time period is for learning from mistake snot being punished for them. Mastery will come with time and practice.
- The need for stability of status: When positions are getting shifted around and reporting structures change, people often feel that their current social status in the company is threatened. Be sensitive to this, and maintain a supportive dialogue with individuals who will be most affected by the change.
Understanding why your employees may resist change, where they’re coming from in terms of their comfort level, job security, and fear of failure can help you make the transitory environment less threatening.
Keep the customer focus
Even if you’ve done your homework and have fully prepared your employees for a big shift, theres lots of competition out there. During times of upheaval or change, focus on the customers needs can easily fall by the wayside if you’re not careful. To make sure this doesn’t happen, coach your employees on why customers keep buying from you, and get their input on potential new paths to customer happiness.
Allow them thinking time to look at their customers needs through the lens of your transition and give them leeway to bridge gaps in service and come up with their own ideas to enhance experience. Just as your dialogue with them needs to stay open, you should also encourage them to collaborate with each other to find the best way to help customers as team. Employees with a customer focus will naturally be creative and intuitive if they feel safe during the change and you’ve given them elbow room.
Stay in the trenches with them
The best leaders are those who demonstrate a willingness to roll up sleeves and work side-by-side with their team to accomplish goals. Successful change management means you’ve demonstrated that you’re aware of the problems they may have with transition. You’ve opened a dialogue and have empowered them to think outside the box.
You’ve made the transition environment safe for them and have them focused on the end goal of providing a fantastic customer experience. Now is not the time to just leave your employees to the job and walk away. Show them your support by working through the kinks with them. Help them navigate unexpected hurdles and emergencies. Keep the dialogue going and keep tweaking the system to work out the bottlenecks.
When I was President/CEO of a publishing business in 2005 we transitioned from an outsourced warehouse and distribution to handling in house. The change management was brutal, we were incredibly behind with delivery, and it was all hands on deck. Imagine the look on everyones face, and the boost in morale, when I worked morning until night packing, lifting and delivering hundreds of those 40 pound boxes.
During a transition, you’ve got to wear a lot of different hats in your relationships with employees. Sometimes you’re a cheerleader, sometimes you’re a counselor, and sometimes you’ve got to pick up that wrench and dive in with them to get something done.
Your job as a leader is to get your employees ready and comfortable with the changes you’re making. When you do, you’ll see a huge return on those relationships in terms of loyalty and trust, which leads to high performance and job satisfaction.