We see it on a daily and sometimes hourly basis; our organizations are changing and employees have questions, concerns, fears about a particular change. The change can be as large as a global merger, or as small as a change to an individual work schedule. The reactions from staff are universally predictable. Does this sound familiar?
- Why is my team the last to know?
- Why weren't we consulted?
- Has anyone thought of <fill in the blank>?
Even in circumstances where it is not advisable to “take a vote" on the change, it is imperative to bring staff along in the process so that even if the change is top down, staff are equipped with simple tools to help them move from a fear, worry, and assumptions, to a sense of personal control/ownership around the change effort.
This is a simple framework to:
- Assist leaders in overcoming their fear of engaging with negative emotions that may arise from proposed change
- Give staff more control over the conversations around change
- Change the mindset of staff from compliance to embracing, understanding, and championing the change
Provide a Platform for Staff Concerns
Instead of discouraging negative feelings, or worse dismissing them, it is more productive to embrace negative reactions as a catalyst for change. In her book “The Positive Power of Negative Thinking," Julie Norem provides numerous meaningful examples of how negative or pessimistic thinking can drive better outcomes if harnessed properly. As an example, many people are “defensive pessimists"- they imagine the worst possible scenario when faced with an anxiety producing event such as a presentation. In harnessing that emotion they can effectively plan for and mitigate those real or imagined worst case scenarios.
Often, leaders and front line managers fail to realize this critical component of change and can inadvertently ostracize the “complainers" and in doing so lose a valuable opportunity to improve the outcome and sustainability of the change. Providing a facilitated platform through an interactive learning environment in which those impacted by change are able to express their concerns and fears and be encouraged to take control by finding solutions and addressing changes in a co-creative environment is much more productive than a typical top down approach. This is typically part of a workshop or session comprised of staff and teams impacted by the change and facilitated by HR.
Create a Personalized Framework
Rather than delivering a prescriptive approach, help staff translate the change into a personalized action plan. As a general framework the facilitated session will:
- Encourage staff to seek out information, not simply be a passive recipient
- Ask staff to be leaders and apply critical thinking to the change and its impact
- Strongly encourage staff to consider the impact of the change on their colleagues
This is a sample planning guide for staff. It is designed as a starting point to encourage staff to seek answers and take ownership of co-creating the change.
This simple worksheet, provided to staff during the facilitated session, offers an opportunity for engagement and to drive understanding and personalization around the change initiative.
Providing a platform and tools for staff improves the staff sense of control over the change initiative and helps staff learn to self-manage and channel negativity they may experience related to the change. Perhaps most importantly, when staff are engaged at this level it creates an environment in which it is acceptable for leaders and mangers to not have all the answers. and helps managers and leaders get more comfortable with not having all the answers. When staff are given permission to engage and not be passive recipients of the change, it can provide more comfortability for leaders and managers.
Remember, as a leader you have probably been involved in discussions around the change for a considerable period of time and have likely already worked through your own ideas, feelings, worries, etc. Give your staff the same opportunity.