Today’s organizations know they have to be able to adapt quickly to survive. Industry changes, competitive maneuvers and technological advances all demand quick shifts in procedures or products, changes in personnel, restructuring or mergers.
But to make these changes work, employees have to be adaptable. And there’s the rub: Change can make people nervous, afraid and resistant.
They can be obstinate. They can drag their feet. They can nod in compliance but keep using old systems and procedures because they know the new program “will never work.” Resistance can ground your “new ventures” before they ever really take off, leaving us with a couple questions:
- Are some employees more open to change than others?
- How can managers help employees adapt more easily?
Change management is becoming more and more important in the business world as organizations find themselves evolving regularly.
First off, some employees may indeed appear more open to change. But inside, all brains are essentially wired to avoid it. Routine activities are handled by a portion of our brain (the basal ganglia) that allows us to use less energy on activities we do frequently, i.e., we’re on autopilot. “Change jerks us out of this comfort zone by stimulating the prefrontal cortex, an energy intensive section of the brain responsible for insight and impulse control,” reports speaker and author Carol Kinsey Goman. “But the prefrontal cortex is also directly linked to the amygdala (the brain’s fear circuitry, which in turn controls our flight or fight response).”
Past experiences do alter our innate receptiveness. If your employees have worked through a merger and been fired in the past, talk of a merger will scare them. If they’ve gone through the steps of switching to a new computer system only to find it’s more complicated, they are likely to be resistant.
Obviously you can’t change an employee’s past. But people are rational—opening the door for good managers to help. You can make change “safe” and positive. It’s a complicated task and varies from person to person.
Here are some key components of change management:
- Embrace the change yourself. Find the positive in any change before you announce it to your team. Announcing a change in procedure by saying “We’re being forced to make this change because …” will not get workers on board. Keep your explanation simple and understandable. You don’t need to sugarcoat the challenges, but don’t paint them as insurmountable.
- Maintain open communications. Talk often as a group about problems that may come up. Let employees vent, voice concerns, barriers and ideas. This dialogue will help people warm up to ideas, build unity and help you understand who’s hesitant. Be watchful for silent dissent—people who say nothing but secretly disapprove of the change. Meet with them individually to try to get them to open up.
- Create a flexible plan and learning goals and celebrate accomplishments. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Diagram what’s ahead so it’s easy to see the steps that will happen to get to the fully functioning “new.” Rather than focusing strictly on performance, set learning goals for your team as they take on new challenges. When short-term goals (or efforts) are accomplished, celebrate. If the plan needs to be adjusted, communicate this. Announce effort and successes along the way so people see that they’re making a difference.
- Have consequences. People must be held accountable if they don’t comply. Without it, peers who do go along with the change face conflict with non-compliant colleagues. The change is also not being fairly evaluated if only a few people are on board.
Managers can help employees roll with change. Your attitude, the way you communicate and track progress and effort all have an effect on how easily workers adapt and grow. Understand the human side of resistance to change and you’ll be better able to help your organization move forward in today’s quickly evolving workplaces.