CHANGE. For some, it’s a word associated with challenge and excitement; for others, it inspires revulsion, resentment, or dread.
Considering the degree to which the American workplace has changed over the last quarter century, both answers are understandable. Some change has been for the better; some decidedly for the worse. And some could be either, depending on your perspective. But two things seem certain: The last few decades of change have been rapid and transformative, and continuing rapid change seems inevitable and unstoppable.
Fortunate people and fortunate companies have managed to ride the tide of change up to this point – but each workplace upheaval leaves some fallen by the wayside. Adaptability, it seems, is no longer optional for survival. So how do we help our businesses deal with change? It turns out that in large measure, helping employees adapt helps companies adapt too.
Here are a few steps that will help your company and your people navigate the road ahead, whatever it may bring:
- Foster collaboration. When it comes to change of any kind, some people are early adopters while others tend to stick with the familiar. Left to themselves, people addicted to familiar routines tend to be outpaced when workplace changes happen. In a collaborative environment, however, employees have the opportunity to share knowledge, ideas—and crucially, mutual encouragement. When it’s time to adopt new processes or technologies, that interactive and collaborative dynamic goes a long way towards making the transition smooth.
- Plan for change. From the organization’s highest levels, make it a point to expect change, anticipate it, and welcome it when it arrives. Leaders have the opportunity to set the tone for their subordinates, and to create plans to help employees adapt as needed. Whether it’s developing extensive retraining programs, or simply being prepared to give employees authoritative information about coming transformations, planning ahead helps avoid operational disruption and employee resistance.
- Compensate for adverse results where possible. Does a coming change mean that some employees will be affected adversely – working longer hours, losing a title, or losing a job? It’s not always easy or even possible to balance the impact of such outcomes, but when it can be done it usually should be. It’s no secret that performance is keyed strongly to morale, and even if some expense or effort is required to sustain morale during business transformation, the investment is usually well worth it over the longer term.
- Encourage dialogue. People fear what they do not understand, and fear is a lousy basis for a good attitude on the part of your employees. Inviting questions, giving straight answers, and encouraging discussion can help your employees to come to grips with transformational workplace events like mergers, automation, efficiency drives, downsizing, or restructuring. Even when the answers you give aren’t exactly what people wanted to hear, giving straightforward responses inspires confidence, encourages loyalty, and helps employees overcome fear of the unknown.
- Acknowledge – and appreciate – your team’s strengths. People tend to appreciate others who appreciate them. When change is coming, express your confidence in your staff’s ability to handle it productively, and thank them in advance for their willingness to adapt and for helping to make the transformation as smooth as possible. After the fact, show your appreciation – where deserved – for cooperation and a job well done. Not only will this make current changes easier for employees to swallow, it builds a basis of trust you can call upon the next time a significant shift is coming.
Change is seldom easy, but it is often necessary—and as the whirlwind pace of modern business shows, it is always coming whether we like it or not. Companies that not only survive but thrive are usually the ones that lay out the welcome mat for change, and which help their employees to do the same.