by Shayne Thomas
08 Apr 2021
No One Ever Said Navigating Change Was Easy
5 tips for enlisting your employees to be your biggest change agents
Whether you’re an HR professional, an organizational leader, or a team manager, there has probably come a time in your career when you’ve had to implement some sort of top-down change to company policy. And if that change was a massive departure from the status quo or simply wildly unpopular (at first) among employees, you had your work cut out for you.
But that isn’t because change, in and of itself, is bad or not well-intentioned. The biggest problem that companies have in making important organization-wide changes typically stems from poor communication around why that change is happening in the first place and then a complete failure to engage employees in being part of the solution moving forward.
The truth is, no one really likes change. It’s can be tough to implement. It requires a lot of hand-holding to help employees see it in a positive light. And it can also feel like uncharted territory. After all, people like the sense of security that comes with the status quo, even if the status quo is not a truly effective way of operating.
At Cornerstone, we understand the critical role that organizational transformation plays in helping companies—and their people—succeed, develop, and grow. However, this kind of change doesn’t just happen on its own; it requires everyone to understand the rationale behind it, see the opportunity it provides, and then work together to stay focused on the future.
Tips for implementing change like a pro
A lot of big changes within companies don’t succeed because they were simply approached in the wrong way. But that doesn’t have to be the case for your company, as long as you keep a few important things in mind when undertaking your own transformation journey.
1. Don’t keep secrets
Let’s face it, if a big change is coming, it’s only a matter of time until the rumor mill starts churning. And the more it churns, the more it begins to build distrust and resentment towards managers and company leaders alike. Of course, there’s always the right time and place to announce that change is on the horizon—and major announcements should always be taken with care. But don’t leave people hanging once that cat’s already out of the bag. Be sure to provide an update, even if it’s not entirely complete, as soon as humanly possible. The sooner you communicate with employees will squash false information—aka, rumors—in their tracks and get everyone on the same page. That alone is just half of the battle.
2. Be utterly transparent
Now that you’ve decided to communicate whatever changes are coming down the pipeline, you need to keep it real. Set aside platitudes like, “creating greater alignment with our strategic priorities,” because, let’s face it, nobody buys those smoke and mirrors anymore. Employees just want you to come clean, be honest, and explain why the change being proposed is happening. This isn’t always easy to do, especially if your company has hit a rough patch and, for better or worse, has to take decisive action to stay afloat. But believe it or not, employees will likely understand and even potentially show some compassion when you tell them the truth. Remember, as leaders, they look to you to steer the ship. Don’t leave them high and dry when they need you the most. (Plus, lying will always come back to haunt you…)
3. Have a plan of attack
Once the rumor mill gets going, per the above, time is no longer on your side. In an ideal world, you would make a single announcement detailing a well-thought plan around how you plan to see this change through, who will be impacted most, and what to expect in both the near- and long-term. Simply having a plan, even if it isn’t necessarily in everyone’s favor, builds a lot more transparency and clarity around typically confusing and worrisome situations. You have a choice: either let employees spiral into anxiety, driven by a fear of the unknown, or layout a clear action plan so that everyone within the company knows what to expect and when. Again, this doesn’t necessarily make the job of communicating change any easier, but it can certainly avoid making an already stressful or uncomfortable situation even more difficult to bear.
4. Support employee success
Obviously, change comes in many forms. If you’re in the unfortunate position of having to announce a reduction in force, then just be sure you’ve provided those being let go with a severance package that makes them feel that you valued their work prior to being laid off. However, when the change proposed involves adopting new policies, learning new tools, mastering different skills, approaching new ways of working, and beyond, be sure to have relevant training and learning content ready to go. Having a strong learning management system (LMS) at your side, like Cornerstone Learning, for example, can make skilling up employees, at scale, a breeze. After all, if you’re implementing a change that affects your workforce, be sure to give them a path to success to get them over the learning curve.
5. Welcome feedback
Whenever implementing a big change, there’s a good chance that many employees might not be, shall we say, thrilled. That’s to be expected. But they shouldn’t be silenced either; their views are worth listening to, whether or not it eventually leads to a change in policy. So, be sure to create a way—be it a survey or a feedback form on your intranet—for employees to share what’s on their minds. Of course, set some ground rules to keep the feedback squarely focused on the policy at hand. And whatever you do, set aside time with a team of key stakeholders to review the feedback, discuss it candidly, and then present outcomes to employees. The worst thing you can do when providing a way for employees to give feedback is not to listen to it. Show you’ve embraced it with open arms and, if you found some glimmers of insight within it, clearly demonstrate how essential bits of feedback led to policy changes. Inviting employees to be a part of the solution allows transformation to take hold in powerful and innovative ways.
Change isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard
The moral of the story here is simple: As challenging as implementing change may be, when done the right way, it can drive greater long-term success for your company and your people. You just have to have a plan and lead with transparency, honesty, and clarity, giving your employees the confidence they need to know that whatever change you’re proposing, in spite of its perceived initial drawbacks, will land everyone involved in a much better place. It’s definitely not easy, but nothing that’s ever really been worth it is truly easy.