The other day, while I was getting my oil changed, I overheard a conversation between a young man and what appeared to be one of his customers. He was telling the person on the other end of the phone that his company had been purchased and the only thing the new owners had said to them was that he shouldn’t worry, nothing was going to change. Except that the customer he was talking to on the phone was going to have to start adhering to a 3 case minimum order of whatever he happened to be selling. He was sorry. He didn’t know why any more than the customer did, but it was frustrating to him.
That story illustrates what happens at one end of the continuum when employees are impacted by a change event. The conversation I had recently with a former colleague demonstrates the other end. I saw her at the store and asked how things were going at work. Her reply made me laugh. She said, “oh, you know. Different day, different shirt”. Some employees let change roll off their backs. Some because it’s part of their makeup as humans. Others, as in this case, because it happens so often to them, they have no other choice.
Below are four items that all organizations should do when engaging in any change event:
1. Explain the “What” AND the “Why” – Most organizations are pretty good at explaining the what (more on that in a bit). Where they get hung up is on the why. The why is the big one. In Tim Clark’s book, Epic Change, he talks about the incremental energy required to complete a change. If your employees don’t understand why they are starting down a change path, not only will they not be able to summon that incremental energy, they might not want to. The other important factor here is that the explanation needs to start before the change happens, not during or after.
2. Communicate – Communication about organizational change, and I don’t care how small you think it is, is best given in a face to face or voice to voice environment. Emails, memos, and text messages (yep, some managers do it), leave too much room for interpretation. Employees need the chance to see and hear the commitment from their leaders and have the opportunity to ask questions, give feedback, or just say they are nervous about what is happening.
3. Understand that people adjust at different rates – This is OK. Not everyone will jump on the bandwagon on day 1. People get there in their own time and on their own terms. Your job is to help them and provide support. Give people who appear to be struggling a partner or coach who is well on their way to accepting the change. Provide tools to help people understand the change. Lastly, listen to them if they want to have a conversation or express a concern.
4. Follow-up – Change is not a one and done kind of deal. Imagine if I asked you to participate in an experiment and do something small like wear your watch on the opposite hand, carry your keys in a different pocket, or write with your opposite hand. Would you feel comfortable? When I told you the experiment was over, would you continue doing it? Probably not. You would most likely move your watch back to the “comfortable” place as soon as you could. Every employee has that same “comfortable” place, and if you are not following up continually, you will be frustrated with the results.
What are your experiences with change? Either as an employee or as a leader. We’d love to hear from you.