How to ease staff through big changes

Change, as the saying goes, is the one constant in life, and in the current circumstances it couldn’t be truer!

Gone are many future plans and goals for organisations, with more tentative procedures in place, as our workforces attempt to find some sort of surety.

COVID-19 has almost forced a state of constant adaptation and innovation. Those that incorporate the ethos of change into their business, and guide their departments through various incarnations, are more likely to succeed.

Even prior to the current pandemic, old workplace models have been upended by disruptors like Airbnb and Uber. The traditional nine-to-five on-site staff arrangement was already being increasingly replaced by remote working and international labour pools. Change has been challenging for businesses everywhere.

A changing work environment also translates into a changing workspace for employees. I’m sure those of us returning to the office can vouch for the many challenges felt. This can be a disruptive and disconcerting experience for staff if not handled appropriately and considerately.

A changing work environment should not mean a fractured one, nor should it shatter the unity and group identity of the company.

Here is how to ensure change is introduced smoothly and seamlessly:

Start at the top

It is near impossible to convince staff of change if the managers and staff above them are not seen to be implementing and endorsing it.

Let’s be clear about this: mid-level or low-level managers should not manage change on their own as the message needs to filter down from the most senior ranks.

Not only does this ensure the change is given a whole-hearted endorsement by the senior executives, it also ensures the information is delivered in a clear and unified fashion.

Don’t cut corners

Money may very well be tight, but where possible try not to cut corners through instigating change. Ensure that your change management process is properly resourced to ensure staff feel supported and the changes you are implementing have the best chance of positive results.

It is very hard to convince staff of your care and respect for change if you’re refusing to properly fund or resource it.

Get philosophical

Most workers are motivated by their passion for what they do, and that is why it’s imperative to explain the change within a broader philosophical framework.

Staff like to feel that they’re part of a broader movement, and that there is a greater purpose, vision, and positive goal. Make sure you enunciate clearly how the change aligns with new guidelines or requirements but also how it is a positive step for the organisation’s journey as a whole.

Don’t fight the objectors

There will also be people who are determined to oppose changes or the necessity of them, and as managers, we can expend an enormous amount of time attempting to bring these people on board. However, we may or may not be successful.

A better use of time and energy is to focus on the people who are most directly impacted by the change and to engage with them in an open-minded and enthusiastic way.

Be open

According to a study by Leadership IQ, only 35 per cent of managers are “actively” or “frequently” sharing company challenges with internal teams.

This translates to a lot of staff in the dark, which breeds unease and distrust.

Wherever possible, include staff in your decision-making process and take their suggestions and thoughts on board. If you are asked a question by staff and you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to admit it.

Staff turn away from change when they don’t trust their leaders to lead them through it and that trust can only be gained through openness and honesty.

Plan for consistency

Finally, be consistent in your promotion of adopting change. For new habits to stick, for organisations to adopt and persist to changed measures, managers must implement consistency in their approach to reinforcing changes.

And the best way to be consistent, is to have a unified and planned approach as soon as possible. If staff think the changes are ad-hoc or occurring without proper thought or insights, then they will automatically disengage.

Gain their buy-in through being competent and prepared. Safeguards for success may include implementing in stages, back-up plans, reporting sessions to staff and set up clear communication channels.

Planning is one of the most important aspects of change management. Often bosses will be so concerned with checking in with staff and communicating potential outcomes or problems that they forget to undertake the actual planning.

And all the buzzwords and flowcharts in the world cannot help a manager who has failed to put a plan in place or keeps changing the change!