Change is seldom easy to accept, especially in the corporate world. As people settle into their jobs, their routines, and their roles, it becomes difficult to present new approaches without hearing complaints. Maybe it’s a policy change or a change in the workflow. It may be something that requires training, as a new time-tracking system. Even if it’s something innocuous, like switching to a new coffeemaker in the break-room, any change can be hard to implement in an environment that involves different personalities and levels of expertise and assimilation.
The problem occurs when change, or even the fear of change, stunts productivity and lowers morale. No matter where this kind of fear comes from, it should be addressed early, before it infects other employees and departments, causing a domino effect that will impede the adoption of anything new.
HR departments tend to know a thing or two about this, since HR is usually the implementer of new policies, the “change police,” if you will. As such, HR professionals have a crucial role in helping managers and employees get over their fears, so they can understand and accept change. They also need to be able to detect when resistance to a specific change is well-founded.
Here are a few tips for how HR professionals can help employees handle change.
- Increase communication. Often, what employees fear is not the change itself but rather the insecurity that arises from not knowing enough about it, or not having enough lead time. Nobody likes to feel that something new has been sprung on him or her, least of all employees who are used to working in a certain way—whether it’s how they track their hours or how they brew their coffee. Letting employees know as early as possible about an upcoming change or even the possibility of a change, will make them feel more in the loop, so they will be less thrown by the change itself once it’s implemented.Communication should also be as clear as possible, not only concerning the change itself but also the reasons for the change. Just as no one likes these kinds of surprises, they don’t like to feel that things are changing for no reason. There’s always a reason, so share it with the employees. Of course, this is all within the bounds of what can in fact be shared, while respecting everyone’s privacy and the decision-makers’ preferences. But try to communicate as much and as early as possible about every kind of change that comes up.
- Don’t resist resistance. Not all change is good, plain and simple. Something that might seem like a brilliant new way of doing things may not be realistic at all in practical terms. Maybe it’s a great idea, but the tools or infrastructure necessary to make it a success are not yet in place. It’s important for HR departments to fine-tune their listening skills in order to determine whether resistance or objections to a given change are well-founded.Along with more open communication, important changes should be followed by a period of close observation to determine their actual feasibility and to pinpoint possible downfalls. If there is resistance, managers should be encouraged to find out it’s source and reasoning, since this may offer clues to deeper problems. Although some employees may resist change just for the sake of maintaining the status quo, others may have very real reasons to resist. Managers should be able to differentiate one from the other and follow up with the latter since the issues they raise could mean the success of the change itself.
- Encourage overt resistors. Since part of the change, the process is to allow people to resist—or at least to hear their reasons in case they present real, practical issues—then it’s a good idea to implement ways for employees to resist constructively and overtly.Covert resistors complain about the change around the water cooler. They raise diversionary questions at meetings explaining the change or even ignore these meetings altogether. These types of covert actions are unproductive and unhelpful. On the other hand, overt resistors use meetings as a chance to openly bring up legitimate questions, point out downfalls, and suggest other options. The key is to offer employees an avenue to express their resistance in a manner that will be helpful.
It’s true, change is seldom easy to accept, and it’s also often difficult to implement. A crucial point for HR departments and managers to remember is to not give up. The worst fate for any change is for it to not happen at all. It’s better to change the change, so that it is successful, than not to have it at all if it’s something that will ultimately benefit the company. This is why overt resistors are so important—to raise valid objections and possibly offer different methods to achieve the same end result. It’s also why HR and managers who are advocates for the change should do their best to spread the word about the positive results the change will bring to the company and its employees.
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