There is no doubt that being on the receiving end of change affects people differently. Combine this with changes that they do not feel they have any control over and it can quickly lead to resistance. Resistance to change is recognised as one of the leading reasons for many change programs failing, facing disruption or at best causing upheaval amongst a workforce that feel pushed into change, and feel that they are not listened to or understood. A workplace that has the right people and attitude to change will find it far easier to make both small and large changes when needed. Having a structure to change and knowing how to work with the workforce to make it happen will help.
So what can you do to make the path of change smoother?
The role of the change manager is to work with the stakeholders involved in changes in such a way that they happen with minimum disruption to the existing business, which can be a challenge when faced with resistance. Ensuring your change manager has received suitable change management coaching that focusses on the human aspect of change can be a huge benefit in helping them to communicate with disgruntled stakeholders, have difficult conversations and in doing so build engaged teams that will accept and move forward with changes.
Communicating effectively in times of change is important to gain move forward with change. Being able to interpret what makes us think as we do allows us to have an insight into what others may think or do in a given situation. If you can pre-empt possible reactions and have thought why and how they feel as they do, you will be less likely to react inappropriately.
If you can create a feeling of collaboration through a relationship driven approach, rather than a dictatorial announcement from on high, you will be likely to allay some of the initial gut reactions that are generally not favourable, no matter what news you are giving.
A three-pronged approach can assist with creating a hearts and minds atmosphere. One that shows you understand how others feel when faced with uncertainty, one that shows you may not be able to stop the changes, but are willing to listen and give time to ensuring that your workforce views are heard and support is in place when needed.
This may seem obvious, but all too often we listen to voices but never really seek to understand fully what is being said. Simply hearing is not enough, resistance to change is real and with it having the potential to derail an entire project, really listening and offering truthful answers, showing understanding as to why they feel as they do can sometimes be enough to diffuse a situation. Watch with your eyes as well as listen with your ears, you will be able to see how what you say is received too, which will tell you a lot.
It is important to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. During changes in the workplace, showing sympathy and simply feeling sorry for those affected, especially in a crisis related change is not the answer. However, empathy, bridging the gap between the decisions that need to be made, whilst understanding that the workforce will have a variety of struggles that may present as resistance, will provide better results. It is important to show understanding from their perspective whether personal or business struggles are the issue. Using a technique such as empathy mapping is great to gain insights on how individuals will react to a particular change. It is a useful tool when changes need to happen quickly, such as when staff need to be moved, it can help identify the best place for both them and you, through understanding them.
In this case time does not mean delaying the change, it is about building in time for those affected to come to grips with changes. Those effecting significant change should expect there to be a disruption to productivity, that the workforce need time to adapt and most importantly accept that the change is going through. Supporting people through change will lead to a more effective pathway and a smoother change. Seek to create an environment where change is more readily accepted, the more your workforce feel open to change, have a route to communicate concerns and ideas as part of everyday working the more a shared working relationship is created, the less they will be resistant when change is needed. Some change has to happen and there is no time, so during this time ensuring your change managers have effective communication and influencing skills through training will help them in supporting those that need it.
Understanding different reactions and reasons for reluctance to change is critical to the smooth running of any change within an organisation. Supporting people appropriately through change can remove many of the barriers you will face, and as such is a critical aspect of your change management plans. As we have touched upon, creating an organisation that is already more accepting of change will help, having clear lines of communication, an open and honest policy whereby your workforce feels trusted to be part of change processes can go some way to smoothing the pathway. It is also important that they see updates, are able to see the benefits of changes and given time to adjust to new ways, people or procedures. Without doubt, many are more motivated if they see a reward for their hard work, especially if it will involve an element of extra work for them to adopt. If you can offer rewards, even a team meeting can boost morale and make for a better, more inclusive working environment. You may not see everyone accept the change, but offering them the best chance to engage, understand and make choices may be enough to avoid a significant disruption to your workforce.