On the change gang: Helping employees adjust to upheaval

Helping employees adjust to upheaval

It’s a cliché but it’s also true: Change is difficult.

In fact, it’s so challenging for businesses that one Harvard Business Review report places the failure rate of all large-scale transformations at two-thirds.

That’s partly attributable to human frailty; employees often react badly because they don’t like the loss of control, uncertainty, fear of failure and increased work load that can be part of the package. But the same report confirms that company leaders can do much to ease such transitions, including engaging employees at every level, providing resources that support the changes, and emphasizing continual learning over the course of the change.

In many cases change can’t be planned; it just rears its sometimes-ugly head in the form of ownership changes, consolidations, buyouts, economic or political pressures, environmental disasters, death, illness or any number of factors. But if your company is aware of such an impending change, you’ll want to strategize ahead of time to ensure its success.

These guidelines could help make the process smoother:

  • Thoroughly explain the reasons for the impending change to employees, giving them the info they’ll need to adjust to the new normal. Be as transparent, fast and fair as possible; for example, one major layoff is cleaner and less stress-inducing for workers than the uncertainty of many cuts over time. “Not knowing what will happen next can be profoundly debilitating because it requires extra neural energy,” reads a report by Global Leadership Consultants. “This can diminish memory, undermine performance and disengage people from the present.”
  • Evaluate what kinds of new resources you’ll need to affect the change. Will technology require updating? How much training is advisable? Should you add physical or alternative space? More employees or supplies? Will procedural changes be required? Eliminate frustration by having everything in place before it’s needed.
  • Openly acknowledge challenges, but encourage employees to embrace the change as an opportunity for growth. Try to anticipate the ripple effect of what’s occurring, identifying and preparing for pain points before they occur.
  • When possible, give employees a feeling of control (and reduce stress) by including them in ongoing decision-making and soliciting participation in new systems and operations.
  • Figure out how regular schedules will need to change to make room for new priorities. Consider how lower-priority functions might be handled if staffers need to spend more time on the new activities.
  • Reward and praise those who work extra hours or otherwise go out of their way to make the change go smoothly. Research shows praise stimulates the human brain in ways similar to a financial windfall, says the Global Leadership study.
  • Avoid an emotional perspective throughout the process, being objective about what isn’t working and taking steps to fix those issues.

In short, the more proactive you can be about your impending company changes, the easier those changes are likely to be on your employees.

“Although it’s highly unlikely everything will go as planned, people function better because the project now seems less ambiguous,” the study concludes.