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How to prepare employees for change

Written 14 October, 2019, 4 minutes to read

The idea that humans avoid change isn’t exactly new. We’ve already explored why people resist change at work, but it’s easy to see why change in any area of our lives can be unnerving. Change means stepping out of our comfort zone. It means abandoning what we know to pursue an uncertain end. It means insecurity, opening us to risk – and risk can be treacherous. Change at work is inevitable, but there are steps you can take to make the transition easier. Here’s are a few pieces of actionable advice to help prepare employees for change.

Communicate openly & regularly

People fear change because they can’t predict its outcome. While you might not be a fortune teller, you do have ideas about how the change will pan out and what employees can expect.

  1. First off, explain why the change is taking place. In order to accept change, employees need to understand the basic motivation for it. Take time to communicate this – and if you have to give bad news, carefully prepare your content and delivery. Speak calmly and compassionately, and think about what type of follow-up communication people might need.
  2. The concept of change can take a while to sink in, so if people don’t immediately have questions or voice their concerns, make sure they know you’re available to listen down the line – whenever they need it. Your focus at this stage should always be on communicating the change in a way that helps people quickly recover from any shock. Only once the shock abates can acceptance begin.
  3. Crucially, keep employees updated regularly – hold weekly update meetings about the change, and ask employees for their thoughts and opinions. This also helps people feel involved and engaged from the get-go; maybe an employee was hesitant at the start, but knowing that their opinions are valued and that they’re contributing in the process will help them adjust.

Offer training & teaching

Employees can feel hesitant about change simply because they feel ill equipped for it. They might worry they lack the right knowledge or skill set… and often they do! Before you announce the change, think about what kind of training you can offer people – not just to actually implement the change, but to help people accept it more easily and approach it more positively too.

Ensure employees know they have access to mentorship and coaching, educational resources and courses and – at all times – honest, candid feedback. Consider different ways employees can use the change to personally progress: would certain people benefit from leadership development, or learn particular new skills? If so, think about how they can utilize the change for their own development.

By highlighting training and developing opportunities before the change even begins to roll in, employees will approach the change more positively. We all like rewards and personal opportunities, and when contemplating change it’s only natural to think “What’s in it for me?”. Knowing what we can personally gain from a change is a great way to help people prepare and feel positive.

Strengthen working relationships

Training sessions and regular team update meetings are all super important, but one thing is consistently overlooked when preparing people for change: emotional support. Back in the ‘90s, The New York Times psychologist Daniel Goleman stated that nearly 90% of the difference between outstanding and average leaders is attributable to emotional factors, not intellectual acumen. This is certainly applicable here.

Without good professional relationships, it’s impossible for employees to feel secure. How can you voice your concerns if you don’t feel safe? How can you believe reassurances if you don’t trust your managers? The idea of psychological safety states that when we have strong relationships at work, we’re more inclined to take risks – and one of the biggest risks we face at work is change. When you have the comfort of security, you can embrace change... not run from it.

Being in-tune with how your employees feel is crucial to success, so prioritize strengthening your working relationships. You can do this in groups, with team building exercises or events – or individually, via one-on-one meetings. Hold open forums to ask people what they think about the change. What are they afraid of? What do they want from it? How can you help?

Have a trial period

Stress to everyone in the company that change isn’t a one-off event. Change is a journey, and most journeys usually have missteps. Employees might stumble or take a wrong turn – and they need to know that that’s OK. They need to be reassured that experiencing failure – and subsequent recovery – is often just par for the course. It’s how we grow and how we learn. It’s totally expected that everyone to fail a bit, since you’re all dealing with unchartered territory.

Action the change as slowly as you can, giving employees experience of different roles, fields, and ways of thinking as you go along. Make the change as fun as you can, and stay upbeat. Be empathic, and be gracious. Always celebrate short-term wins, and approach failings as opportunities to learn and improve together – clarifying that nobody is individually responsible or even “at fault” for them – they are positives in their own way!

Always remember that change is the only thing in life that’s constant. Without it, we can’t develop. There are some people who might never naturally embrace change, but there’s no reason why they can’t accept it – so long as you take the time to make the transition as comfortable and transparent as possible.

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