Imagine wanting to change the direction of a big ship in the ocean. People at all levels must engage to make the ship turn and move forward. Like changing a ship’s direction, people are also a key part in organizational change. While the mechanics of the process involves the what, when, and how of the change, employees make the change a vital part of the organization. Keys to engaging employees in making the change happen successfully include:
Providing a Compelling Reason: From an employee’s perspective, three questions need to be answered to build energy for making the change: What is the reason for the change, why does it have to happen now, and what is in it for me? These questions provide the foundation to address the “why” of the change.
Painting a Picture: Apply the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” in giving employees a vision of the change and what the change will look like in their world. Painting a picture helps employees live into the future and get a fuller sense of what the change is going to feel like. The more detailed and vivid the picture, the more people can see what the future holds and become motivated to start living into it now.
Involving employees early and as much as possible: Find ways to elicit input and ideas about the change from employees at all levels. Employee commitment rises in relation to involvement in the change. Employees are your best resource for gaining insight into the impact of the change and addressing potential challenges. Early involvement allows employees to work through their own reactions and see themselves as a key part of the change.
Addressing Employees’ Underlying Concerns: Change is hard and messy. If it were easy, everyone would jump in and do it. Expect resistance and find out underlying concerns employees may be afraid to express. For example, employees may be concerned about how the change will impact their ability to meet current job demands and priorities, how it will affect their role and relationship (connection) with others, and what support they will they receive to develop the skills to do their jobs differently.
Balancing movement from the known with the unknown: Imagine the sensation of moving on a ship that is rocking wildly back and forth. Similarly, too much change and unknown can be unsettling and overwhelming. Balancing what is not changing with the next step in the change provides employees with focus and a sense of control. Implementing the change in phases provides movement with less anxiety and chaos.
Taking steps to engage employees in the change process will help your organization build the capacity to successfully implement and sustain the changes needed to grow and compete in today’s environment.