Change can be scary and stressful. A recent study from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that levels of prolonged stress were 33% higher in employees whose organizations were undergoing change. Some of these changes include restructuring, new human resources systems, modifications of budgets and new leadership.
The consistency of these reactions to change are not surprising, particularly because change has a physiological effect on the brain. Humans are creatures of habit. When we act in consistent ways, our brains form pathways that, like dirt roads, become easier to use over time. Resistance to change in the workplace starts here. Change necessitates developing new thinking patterns, which can be difficult.
How can leaders do a better job of managing change in the workplace? Change management focuses on managing change within a business or organization, and it can be used to help guide employees and other stakeholders.
8 Effective Organizational Change Management Strategies
- Give people an active role in the process.
Employees are dependent on their jobs for personal fulfillment as well as income. When they feel their employment situation is out of their control, it can become a personal issue, not just a professional one. Leaders can combat this feeling by getting employees involved early on in the process. This allows employees to participate in the genesis of the change, which can help with the transition.
- Clearly communicate your vision.
A thoughtful and clear vision has two benefits. First, it sets the macro goals to which the organization and employees can aspire. This allows everyone to embrace the cause and effect relationship between what they do and the larger objectives. Second, it helps employees understand and accept the need for change. It’s important for employees to realize that, while day-to-day duties and processes may change, the big picture objective remains the same.
Change should be a means to an end, not the end itself. When the organization’s overarching goals are clearly laid out, it becomes easier for employees to view change as a necessary step they can embrace instead of buck against.
- Listen to all stakeholders.
If you want to effectively communicate the need for change in the workplace, then you have to be an excellent listener. Communication sessions, both formal and informal, can reveal ways to break down the barriers preventing employees from embracing change. Most importantly, though, you’ll gain insight to your employees’ feelings, which is valuable information as you help them through the transition.
In formal settings such as meetings and team-building activities, do your best to encourage open communication and make sure the leadership does more listening than talking. In informal settings, establish an atmosphere that fosters casual discussion about the changes taking place. When people feel they are being heard, their defenses come down.
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- Be honest.
People hate being lied to, and employees who feel their leadership hasn’t been open and upfront about workplace changes tend to resist them. On the other hand, being transparent can make people more receptive to them, and it increases trust in the long term.
Being honest is harder than it sounds. Transparency often means sharing some of the scarier challenges the changes may present. It sometimes also means revealing the potential weaknesses of the new strategy. In terms of employee morale, however, the benefits of honesty outweigh the sacrifices.
- Put your optimism on display.
Emotions are contagious, whether positive or negative, and people tend to mirror the attitudes of their leaders and peers. So, put on a positive face. As you introduce and initiate changes, say positive things about the process. Present yourself as someone who is visibly affected by the promise presented by the changes. Speak with excitement and genuine enthusiasm. Your team members will be more likely to catch the fever and buy in.
- Facilitate skill development.
After a workplace transition, many employees may feel they lack the skills to handle their new responsibilities, which can cause stress. Giving them the tools that they need will equip them to do the job, and it helps alleviate their concerns. It also communicates to them that you care about them and are willing to invest in their professional development.
- Leverage emotion.
Clearly explaining the rationale for your changes helps, but to get your employees on your side, ultimately you have to make them feel that the changes you are making are worthwhile. Nothing has more persuasive power than connecting with the emotions of your audience.
It may help to appeal to their sense of right and wrong or show them how the change will affect the personal lives of your consumers or their coworkers and peers. Relatable stories and even visual aids can be powerful tools here.
- Use the Change Management Timeline.
Change management can be divided into three phases: the periods before, during and after the change. Here’s how to leverage the timeline to make the adoption of the change smoother:
- Before the change, poll all the people involved. Cast a wide net and use surveys, questionnaires and open forums to gather as much information as you can. Get feedback about how everybody feels about the change.
- During the change, make it the primary focus of the organization. Identify milestones and discuss how they’ve been met, assuming they have been. If they haven’t, discuss how you plan to meet them going forward. Give recognition for achievements in connection with the new initiatives and be transparent about what still needs to be done.
- After the change, cast the information net again and pull in as many insights as possible. You may learn that the adoption of the change is still incomplete. If this is the case, you may need to work harder or smarter to help the changes take root.
Even though some employees dread making major changes at their jobs, taking a new step in the workplace doesn’t have to be difficult or traumatic. When properly managed, change presents far more opportunities than obstacles. You can learn more about leadership and organizational change management strategies in St. Ambrose University’s online organizational leadership master’s degree.
Our curriculum is grounded in the liberal arts and taught by experienced faculty with real-world business experience. You’ll learn relevant skills through a dynamic curriculum that is designed with your success in mind. And because our program is fully online, you can study on a flexible schedule and balance your coursework with your life.