Do you ever wish that things at work would stay the same, at least for a day? Do you wish you could press the pause button long enough to adjust to the latest change before the next one occurs? Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way. Life and work are full of the unexpected.
Change is constant. How you manage change can affect your success and your future. Managing change effectively is all about having a positive outlook, fostering open communication, and maintaining productive working relationships. Here are some ways that you can manage change and also help others that you manage or influence deal with change.
1. Check your own thoughts and feelings about change.
If your own words, actions, and body language convey a negative message or resistance to change, those around you will respond to your resistance. You may not like the change yourself, or you may have concerns about how it will affect you and your work. Your outward expressions can affect how those around you adapt to the change.
You don’t have to be dishonest about how you feel – you can let others know you have concerns, too. You also have to model the way for others on how to deal with change in a positive way. Let’s say your company is implementing a new attendance policy that many employees will see as more restrictive and punitive. You don’t like it because it will place limits on your own work flexibility. You can:
a) join everyone else in complaining about how uncaring and out-of-touch upper management is with the day-to-day realities of the workplace
b) listen to everyone’s complaints, but keep your mouth shut about your own feelings, or
c) acknowledge that the new policy will pose some limits and challenges, encourage everyone to remain positive, and offer some suggestions about how to comply with the policy and remain productive.
If you chose option a), I’m sure you’re not alone. But, you’ll be standing around the water cooler again next week griping about the next stupid change implemented by upper management. At best, this is unproductive and at worst, it’s demoralizing. If you listen to everyone’s complaints but remain silent, you are giving tacit agreement to their complaints without offering anything to help them move beyond mere complaining. Option c) is more helpful. You acknowledge your concerns honestly, accept responsibility for complying with the changes, and focus on how to move forward in a positive way.
2. Allow people to express resistance.
Allowing people to express how they feel about the change helps them to move through it faster. Besides, you can’t prevent people from being resistant to change, at least initially. It’s natural for people to feel fear and anxiety about changes in the workplace. If there is going to be resistance to change anyway, it might as well be out in the open. That way, you will know what the objections are so that you can address them and help people move through them. If you’re concerned that allowing people to express their objections to change will invite endless gripe sessions, you can address that by setting ground rules for how people express resistance. Make clear that you’re not interested in general whining, but if someone has a specific, legitimate concern about how the change will affect them, you are open to hearing about it. If you shut people down without allowing any expression of concern, you will prolong the amount of time it takes for people to adjust to the change, morale will be diminished, and productivity may suffer.
3. Deal with gossip.
If your workplace is at all typical of most, the grapevine is in full swing whenever there is even a hint of a change occurring. Mixed in with factual information about the change are all sorts of speculation, misinformation, and outright falsehoods about what’s really going on. You can’t prevent people from spreading rumors, but you can take the sting out of the rumor-mongering.
Rumors typically fill in the gap of missing information. When people don’t know something, they make it up. You can begin to deal with gossip by keeping your ear to the ground about what is being said. Early, open and honest communication about a change initiative will diminish rumors and misinformation. Use several alternative avenues of communication to keep people fully and honestly informed of planned changes. The appropriate manager should confirm true rumors or true parts of rumors as soon as possible. Set the record straight about false rumors by having someone credible and authoritative refute the falsehood.
4. Involve the resisters in the change effort.
One of the best ways to get people to buy into the change initiative is to get them involved in the change effort. When people are not involved in an effort either physically or intellectually, it’s hard for them to be involved mentally or emotionally. It may not be possible to get everyone involved in planning or implementing the change effort, but you can strategically select the most ardent opponents and give them some responsibility for making the change a success. In order to rationalize their involvement with the change effort, they will persuade themselves that it is the right thing to do. Sound manipulative? Perhaps – but it works.
It also helps to point out how the change will benefit them. People usually want to know how a change will affect them and their work. Point out the positive benefits that the person will get out of the change. Will there be more interesting work? Less work? Better working hours? Will they have the opportunity to learn new skills or build new working relationships? Conversely, what negative consequence was avoided because of the change?
5. Provide training and facilitation.
Sometimes people resist change because they fear that they will not be successful in the new situation. You can help others adjust to the change by providing training on any new skills, policies, and procedures associated with the change. You can facilitate accomplishment of new goals by introducing people to any new players, helping them to get resources needed, and providing more hands-on attention during the transition.