It’s inevitable. Changing technology, changing customer needs, and changing competition are just a few of the things that cause upheaval in your business. What can you do as a leader to minimize the disruption?

First understand what is happening to your employees. Begin by thinking of a time when you suddenly found out something significant as going to change. What was your initial reaction? How did you feel? How long did it take before you were able to stop thinking about the change? How much time did you spend thinking about it even before it actually happened? It’s helpful to reconnect with the experience of change so that you can empathize with your staff.

Most of us feel a loss of control during change particularly if the change is imposed upon us. Even if the change is something we wanted or asked for (such as a divorce) there is still a fear of the unknown or a big question of how it will affect you. It is normal and natural to be concerned about change. People resist change because they don’t know what to expect and we all fear the unknown to some extent. This points us in the direction of how to help employees.

What is the best way to prepare employees? Communicate, communicate, communicate.

  1. Explain the Basis for The Change
    Explain the facts about the threat or the opportunity facing the business. Provide as much information as you can, and give employees a chance to ask questions in an open environment. Use data if it is available. This answers the question WHY and helps the employee realize that the change is not about them; but driven from a different need (if that is true of course). Prepare your key points in advance and rehearse on a trusted friend. This will help you feel natural about saying it.

  2. Create a Vision of the Future
    Explain to the employee how you expect and want the future to play out. Paint a picture for them using a lot of visual words so that they can see it in the mind. What will the end result be? Use as many senses as possible. Practice and get feedback on your vision. Is it clear? Only someone else can answer this question (hint: it’s always clear to us).

  3. Explain the Change Itself
    Explain as much detail as possible about what will happen differently. Who will be doing what? When will the change happen? What will be required? If you don’t know exactly how things will go, say so. Then let employees know how they should participate in making the change happen.

  4. Listen to Concerns
    Listen to concerns and acknowledge them. Employees want to know that they have been heard. This actually reduces resistance in the long run. Allow them to vent for a bit if needed (just not too long). If you feel there are one or two people who are just not buying in or are poisoning the attitudes of others have a private conversation with them to hear them out. Never commit to something you can’t do. Give them a reasonable time to adjust. Remember, it’s normal to resist change at first.

  5. Ask for Support
    Ask the employees to give the new way a chance. Ask them to continue to talk to you about things that really aren’t working but ask them to commit to working on solutions vs. going back to the old way. Let them know that going back to the old way is not an option (if that is true). If an employee cannot authentically offer support right now, give them a chance to think about it. In the long run, if they are not on-board it may not work for them to remain with your company. While this is true, it is always best to let the employee discover this for themselves; while you keep having conversations to engage them. This will leave them empowered; either to embrace the change; or to leave.

Remember these tips when preparing employees for change:

  • You will have to repeat yourself. Keep repeating the reasons for the change (the driving forces) and the vision for the future. Do this at every meeting and if you don’t have many meetings; create some just to talk about the change.
  • Not everyone will react the same. Some people are excited about change or happy to try things a new way. Allow each employee to have their own reaction and answer their questions based on what they want to know.
  • There will be some disruption when you implement major changes. Adjust everything you can to allow for it and manage it personally by watching everything for a while. Let employees know what you are doing and why. Say things like, “I just want to make sure everyone has what they need and there are no questions.”
  • Be patient with mistakes. Give feedback but keep assuring the employee that you are confident they will be successful.

Summary

These five steps will help you prepare employees for change and minimize disruption in your business during change. While it’s normal and natural for employees to be concerned these specific actions will help you reassure employees and prepare them to recommit to serving your customers and being a great contribution to your business. 

About Judi Pine-Sellers

Judi Pine-Sellers is a small business consultant specializing in employee productivity. She has designed dozens of management and employee programs used world-wide. Judi is an expert in all phases of managing employee performance; selection; orientation; training; correcting performance problems; career development; and succession planning. She holds a Master’s Degree in Instructional Design as well as advanced certificates from Thunderbird School for International Management and the University of Michigan, Executive Education Business School.

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