Implementing Change in the Workplace with Minimal Resistance
By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer
Implementing change in the workplace is something every company has to face as it grows and evolves. No matter how big or small, change is necessary to preserve momentum and adapt to external forces. Unfortunately, change at any scale is difficult and often met with resistance.
Companies face a proverbial rock and a hard place—force change on a resistant workforce or stick to what’s familiar as it becomes antiquated. Because the latter isn’t always an option, companies often choose the former and pray their employees learn to adapt.
The downfall comes from thinking there are only two options to implementing change in the workplace. There’s actually a third: empowering employees in the change process. Where the prospect of change can make people feel powerless, giving workers a level of control over how to make changes can garner their support.
Resistance to change is natural
Bucking change is a natural reaction for most people. We’re creatures of habit and change is inherently the opposite of habit, which makes it immediately uncomfortable. Even change for the better can make people balk. There’s an entire field of psychology focused on understanding the knee-jerk reaction to resist change.
All this is to say, don’t expect employees to embrace change—at least not outright. Expect them to oppose it in varying degrees, from expressing simple concern to outright refusing to comply. Your reaction to their reaction is important. Don’t escalate or infuse negativity into the situation or it’ll make employees even more resistant.
Introducing change is the epitome of fighting an uphill battle. What can you do to make it seem less a Sisyphean task and more the means to a positive end? Here are a few tips:
Make change transparent
Regardless of your strategies for implementing change in the workplace, make them transparent. Don’t simply mandate change—introduce the concept, explain it, and give the practical reasoning behind it. It may seem like you’re opening the process up to scrutiny, but the transparency in sharing is exactly what employees need to quell their initial fears. It demystifies the change and shows your concern for their input and involvement.
The simplest way to introduce transparency in change is to cover the five Ws:
- Who does this change affect?
- What is the nature of the change?
- Where does this change come into play?
- When will the change take place?
- Why are you changing things?
These questions and their answers will spark scrutiny and criticism. That’s okay. The purpose in answering them is to create transparency and show you’re not undertaking change in haste. Fielding pushback, criticism, questions, and suggestions comes as part of the next step.
Involve employees in the process
Communication needs to be a two-way medium whenever there’s change in the workplace. If employees feel like they’re forced into a change without a voice for their ideas or concerns, they’re more likely to dig in and fight it—or worse, suffer from it. It benefits companies to give their employees the floor and incorporate them into the process of change.
Knowing how to implement change in the workplace is a multifaceted problem. How does it affect processes? People? Outcomes? Systems? Sure, managers can model change and simulate outcomes, but it’s the people executing change that’ll deliver the best insights. Involving employees in the process serves to soften them against impending change and gives employers important, valuable information when planning.
Resistance to change quickly erodes when employees have a hand in shaping their own destiny, with some control over how change affects them.
Showcase the benefits of change
Evangelize the benefits of any proposed changes before, during, and after their rollout. Employees should clearly see how they benefit from proposed changes and how those changes are an improvement from their current routine. A benefits-driven rollout helps companies implement change in the workplace when there’s uncertainty about why change is necessary.
Benefits should directly correlate to the frustrations and headwinds of employees in some way. Recognize and frame these benefits plainly. This is another reason to involve employees in the change process—to get a better understanding of how to tailor workplace change in the best way.
Think of change as a give and take. Employees don’t want to give up their habits and familiar processes unless they’re getting something in return—something better than what they’re giving up. If the benefits outweigh fear of change, employee buy-in is a lot more amicable. Focus on delivering real, evident benefits as compensation for change.
Ease the process and encourage adoption
Empowering employees to not only accept change but embrace it is the best way for companies to stay nimble without resistance. Taking the unknown out of changes, showcasing the benefits, and providing a clear path to adoption makes employees more receptive to inevitable transformations. Seeing the benefits after only serves to solidify the idea that change isn’t as bad as it’s built up to be. From there stems a culture that welcomes change, making it easier for companies to grow and evolve.
Keep reading: Checklist for Addressing Employee Workplace Complaints