Most people aren’t crazy about change, especially at work. If you like how your company does things, any alteration seems like a potential for disaster; if you don’t, well, any situation can always get worse. Add in the unstable economic environment of the past couple of years, and it’s no wonder that managers struggle to convince their reports to give change a chance.
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Here’s what to do:
1. Know where your company is in the process.
You should always be open to feedback from your reports, even if it won’t change anything — but you need to know whether you’re at a point in the change process in which employee input will alter the course.
Sometimes, especially in smaller or newer organizations, the executive team actually wants to know where their employees’ heads are before they make a decree. Other times, they’ll hand down a decision and expect managers to make it happen. Be clear on which situation you’re in, before you start conveying information to your reports. It will make it easier to know how much feedback is constructive.
2. Don’t go in with preconceived ideas about how reports will react to change.
“Resistance to change is best viewed as a normal reaction,” writes Susan M. Healthfield at About.com’s Human Resources sites. “Even the most cooperative, supportive employees may experience resistance.”
She cautions, however, against assuming that you’ll always receive a negative reaction.
“…[D]on’t introduce change believing that you will experience nothing but resistance or that resistance will be severe,” she writes. “Instead, introduce change believing that your employees want to cooperate, make the best of each work situation, and that they will fully and enthusiastically support the changes as time goes by.”
3. Be committed.
Sometimes, as managers, we’re asked to facilitate changes we’re not 100 percent behind. Now is not the time to be forthright with your team about your misgivings. You don’t have to pretend to be enthused about the decision, but you do need to be committed to making the change happen.
4. Communicate clearly.
Tell your reports why the changes are happening, what they’re meant to achieve, and how each step in the process will work. Much of resistance to change is inspired by fear of the unknown. If you can shed light on as much of the process as possible, your team will feel safer and more respected during it.
5. Play to people’s strengths.
“When people are set up for success, they are more motivated to achieve,” writes Lindsay Broder at Entrepreneur. “Like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, nothing will get done if you have a big-picture person working on detail-rich tasks. Be clear with each person about how their work is vital to the outcome. Then set measurable goals and let them know how they will be held accountable. If appropriate, let the individuals take part in defining the work they will be undertaking.”
6. Know when feedback becomes negativity.
No matter how well you plan, structure, delegate, and communicate the change, someone on your team will be unhappy about it. That’s OK, as long as they’re presenting their issues to you in a constructive way. If you continue to hear from the same person or person, and their feedback isn’t tied to concrete concerns — or managed by empathetic listening — you’ll need to change focus, and concentrate on making sure the negativity doesn’t spread to the rest of the team.
7. Be patient.
Change is hard, even for people who are generally pretty flexible. Be prepared to experience occasional resistance even from your best employees, and open to hearing their concerns, but most of all, be willing to give people time to adjust. Remember that passion and commitment can sometimes look like stubbornness, and that even the most levelheaded employee can have a bad day. Come to the table prepared to give everyone a break at some point during the process, and hopefully, they’ll do the same for you.
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