Dana Carvey, playing Garth in Wayne’s World, once announced: “we fear change.” That single throwaway line in a movie from the early nineties is a remarkably accurate summation of how employees feel about change. Change is scary. Change disrupts workplace routines and makes employees unsure of where they stand. Employee resistance to change can often be traced back to fear and uncertainty–even when change benefits employees.
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Employee resistance can prove a major obstacle when you need to manage change in an organization, but one you can overcome with preparation and communication. Below are eight steps to implement change while easing employee fears.
1. Managers Must Support Change
All levels of management must support change for it to be effective–if an employee’s supervisor appears distrustful of change, resistance will quickly spread among his team. By supporting the drive for change–and expressing enthusiasm for change–managers ease employee fears and provide a safer environment in which change can occur.
2. Make the Case for Change
Employees are more enthusiastic about change when they understand the need to change. Clearly define what each change entails and why, backing your argument up with data pulled from business goals, strategic planning sessions, budgetary meetings, customer expectation surveys, and market research. Ideally, highlight how the change benefits employees. Employees who understand the rationale for change are more likely to embrace new processes and procedures.
3. Communicating Change
Clearly communicate with employees throughout the change process. A lack of communication during a transition period is almost guaranteed to get the office rumor mill going, and such rumors and workplace speculation are rarely positive. Regular communication and updates reduce resistance and help employees feel like they’re part of the change process, rather than powerless observers.
4. Involve Employees
Communication isn’t the only way to get employees involved in the change process. Recruit employees with experience in the type of change you’re implementing and make them part of the change team. Doing so demonstrates your commitment to listening to and working with employees while providing them with peers in the change process (an employee who resists the reasons for change from upper management may be more receptive to the same reasons delivered by a respected coworker).
5. Implementing Change
Communication becomes especially important when implementing change. Give employees advance warning of when changes take effect and provide them with rollout and implementation timelines.
Change implementation should be logical if you hope to successfully manage change in an organization. For instance, if a production floor is changing equipment and procedures, employees need training before the equipment goes live. An effective change rollout considers supplies, training, and other logistics that must be in place prior to implementation.
6. Following-Up on Changes
Managing change in an organization doesn’t end when new processes or strategies roll out–you need to assess how changes affect business. Is the change producing the expected results? Have the changes resulting in unexpected issue or have changes actually made matters worse? Assess change efficiency over time, making adjustments until you achieve the desired result. Keep communication open during this period to prevent new resistance from developing.
7. Removing Barriers
Part of managing change is anticipating and removing obstacles to success. Barriers such as a lack of funds, missing equipment or supplies, or a need for employee training all represent significant barriers to change, but are easier to overcome than entrenched opposition to change in specific employees or departments. (We’re not talking about normal resistance to change here, but active opposition). It’s up to management to ensure employees tasked with bringing about change don’t have to contend with this type of opposition, which may mean you have to brush up on your conflict resolution skills.
8. Celebrate Success
Successful change should be celebrated. Don’t wait until the end of the process to start cheering–celebrate the small steps towards success and recognize the efforts employees make towards the process. Doing so helps employees get on board with change: enthusiasm encourages employee participation.
If you manage change in an organization you know firsthand how challenging it is to overcome employee resistance. Communication, planning, and a willingness to listen to staff concerns all help move your business in the right direction–towards the future.