How to ensure your business changes stay airborne
By Mark Vincent
With the end of the year in sight, many business leaders are resolving to make big changes in the coming year. Many factors, including the energy crisis, digital business, ever increasing customer expectations and an uncertain economic outlook are driving a relentless need to adapt ever more quickly. At the same time, employee retention is becoming an increasingly hot topic with change fatigue reportedly a growing problem according to Gartner. So how do you deliver change at pace and in a way that is sustainable to those involved in and impacted by it.
It’s an unfortunate truth that organisational change often ends like the early attempts at human flight. Painfully. Just as the pioneers of flight had to reconcile their vision with the reality of gravity, businesses need to understand and manage conflicting forces when implementing change. It’s still common for organisations to continue doing the equivalent of vigorously flapping their arms and crossing their fingers for a good outcome. It can catch the smartest and most experienced leaders out, simply because, like quiet quitting, employee resistance can be notoriously difficult to see. Especially when it’s the “silent no” kind.
Like gravity, employee resistance can work for or against you
Like gravity, employee resistance is a force that, if properly understood, can even be used to increase engagement. With cohesive and collaborative change leadership, it’s possible to harness the positive forces and inspire teams to work towards common goals. A simple three-step process will go a long way towards helping employees feel that change is happening ‘with’ and ‘for’ them, not ‘to’ them.
Step 1: explain the need for change in ways that resonate to them
Change is inherently disruptive and takes people out of their comfort zone. There’s no getting away from that. But it’s much easier for people to adapt if they understand what’s going on. So, avoid keeping staff in the dark at all costs. At the earliest possible stage, let them know the ‘who, what, why, when and how’ of change. Talk openly about how it will affect everyone. Be prepared to address questions honestly and as simply as possible, especially when the news may not be great for everyone.
It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. And there may be legal or confidentiality issues that prevent you giving the full picture. But don’t hide behind this as an excuse not to engage with your team. Sooner is always better when it comes to change communication.
Step 2: give people ownership and control
Orchestrating change is often complex, and it can be difficult to relinquish control. But when changes will have a direct impact on someone’s specific job role, it makes sense to let them have a say in decisions. Make time to meet in person with the teams or individuals that will be most affected. Do more listening than talking. If they have concerns or fears, take them seriously and work together to resolve them. Much of the time, it is emotional aspects of change that represent the biggest barriers. Perhaps that restructure will mean they’re no longer sitting near colleagues who brighten their day. Or new technology will reduce their personal interactions with people in remote offices. Once these concerns are in the open, they can usually be resolved amicably without derailing the change initiative. In general, we all engage much more willingly in change if we feel we are in control of making it happen.
Step 3: be supportive and understanding
People adjust to change in different ways and at different paces. Communicating the need for change and giving people ownership is a good starting point. But the transition can still take time. It’s important to allow people space to work through their concerns, questions and anxieties. Ensure an open dialogue is maintained, so staff can raise any issues, confident that they will be dealt with sensitively and thoroughly. It’s so easy for a misunderstanding to fester. And if staff can’t talk about their concerns with business leaders, they will certainly talk amongst themselves. Offering support and understanding throughout the change process will facilitate a quicker and smoother transition.
Organisational change often fails due to interpersonal tensions rooted in lack of clarity and poor morale. What’s more, many businesses make the same mistakes time and again.
Orville Wright once said: “So many attempts to solve the flying problems started with the same idea and stopped at the same point. Most of them resulted in little or no advance over what had been done before.” Sound familiar?
Just as the Wright brothers conquered human flight, any business can reduce change resistance and make big change seem effortless. But to do that involves understanding the forces at play so that you can to turn them to your advantage.
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