Stephen Covey wrote, “There are three constants in life: change, choice, and principles.” As a leader, it’s your responsibility to help your employees manage changes in the workplace, and one of the ways you can do that is by using the principles of effective communication to work through the change together.
Here are three ideas to help you successfully lead others during times of change.
1. Teach Employees to Expect Change
Make sure prospective employees hear during their first interviews that changes in the workplace happen regularly. Ask them if they’ll be comfortable knowing they might be asked to switch teams or take on different responsibilities without much warning.
You can also occasionally promote the message of change with your current employees. Bring it up during meetings, reminding them that management must make changes sometimes so that the company can flexibly respond to an evolving marketplace.
Make sure there’s something about the change in your vision or mission statement. Most importantly, assign your employee’s new challenges now and then and give them ongoing training in new skills and strategies; you may even consider periodically switching up their seating arrangement.
2. Overcome Resistance to Big Changes
When employees resist a major change (job cuts, a move to a new building, reorganization, and the like), it’s usually because their leaders didn’t communicate with them about it very well. How can you create a more-effective dialogue?
As early as you can and before a big change happens, start to overcome potential resistance by informing employees of the following:
- What exactly must change
- Why the company made the decision
- What problem the change will solve for the company
- How the change will be implemented
- How the success of the change will be measured
Your communication with your employees can help alleviate their fear of the unknown. Once they understand the specifics of the change, they still might be unhappy about it, but they can also stop being distracted by worries about their job security, responsibilities, and so on.
Listening to your employees is equally important. Listen to both to their words and to the fears and other feelings behind their words. This information is new to them, so let them air their concerns. In addition, try to use their suggestions on how the change implementation could be improved whenever possible.
Above all, treat employees with care and respect. Acknowledge that they are whole people who have value beyond the workplace. Show them that you ultimately want what’s best for them, not just their labor or compliance.
Once the major change is underway, continue your dialogue with employees through group meetings, emails, one-on-one discussions, and other avenues. Ask them honest questions, such as
- Do you have any concerns about how the change is going?
- Do you think the change is working as expected?
- How can we make this change a smoother transition?
Continue answering their questions, listening to their concerns, and taking quick action on their feedback when appropriate.
3. Guide Employees Through Changes to Policies and Rules
A change to company policies or rules can represent a disruption of employees’ everyday work lives and daily patterns. Communicate the details to them clearly and manage their resistance or discomfort.
Before the rules or policies actually change, send a plan to all employees that eexplainthe following:
- How the changes will occur
- What the leaders’ and employees’ responsibilities are
- What the achievable and measurable goals will be
Make sure that you fully understand these changes yourself and are ready to explain and answer questions about them.
If it’s available, use evidence (such as case studies) to explain why the changes will improve the company and why they must happen soon. Also, give employees any necessary training that will support their success once the changes go live. Then, if it’s appropriate, you could ask them to sign a document that verifies their understanding of and willingness to comply with the changes.
Both before and during these changes, maintain an open line of communication with employees. Listen to their concerns and suggestions and give them good feedback in response. Also, be very sure that leaders and employees are accountable for hitting the goals set out in the change plan.
Become Your Employees’ Ally
Changes in the workplace might be large or small, but change is a constant. Help your employees deal with change better by training them to expect it and by establishing an open and clear dialogue with them before and during changes. Above all, treat them with respect and win their trust so that they’ll see you as their ally (during times of change and beyond).