January 20, 2017
As companies work their way through change initiatives, reorganizations, and more, employees and leaders are reporting increased levels of change fatigue. How can we make change easier? A plethora of research exists to tell us what makes change initiatives successful—and certainly success is one way to alleviate the stress that comes with change.
So whether your organization plans to revamp processes or people roles or launch a large-scale transformation, it will help to keep the proven lessons and practices of successful change initiatives in mind. Here’s what some of the research shows:
Understand that openness and honesty about all aspects of the change build trust in leaders and organizations. Strive for simply worded, honest, and clear communication. This is essential to explaining complex strategies to employees and keeping the organization moving forward. Traps that waylay leaders as they communicate include giving credence to rumors, speculating on the unknown, using business catch phrases instead of explaining difficult concepts, and spouting rose-colored views of the future. Leaders who want their employees to trust them must share the whole truth about why and how change will occur and the effects that will be felt by employees.
Walk the talk. Role modeling by executives reinforces desired behavior throughout the organization. Executives have great impact and visibility during change initiatives. If they are talking about needed change but behaving in the same old ways outwardly, the message leaves their employees befuddled.
In both their words and behavior, leaders must indicate the urgency for change and their willingness to lead and participate in it. Leaders who aren’t sure what they should change about their own actions, or who exhibit a reluctance to change, can benefit from 360-degree feedback, according to McKinsey’s Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken in the report “The Inconvenient Truth About Change Management.”
Prepare for the many emotions and reactions expressed during layoffs. Some changes require reorganization or layoffs. People who have been part of a team may not be going forward in the same roles—and some may no longer be with the organization at all. People and role transitions should be planned to accommodate those who are affected directly (those being let go or whose roles will change) and next to inform and handle the concerns and questions of employees who are indirectly affected.
Many organizations underestimate how specific employees will be about the information they want. No matter how unlikely, those who remain will feel the repercussions of layoffs. (Research shows that the lingering effects can last for several years.) They want to be reassured that all employees are being treated fairly. In some cases, they may be envious of those who receive bonuses or severance packages and feel frustrated about taking on work as team members leave, according to MIT’s guide “Keeping Remaining Employees Engaged after a Layoff.” Line managers and executives who are surprised by these reactions will need support and coaching from their partners in human resources.
My firm helps clients explore and deliver improved performance through employee engagement and communication. Never is this process more crucial than when an organization is in the midst of change.