Better Productivity with Old Paradigms is Difficult
Resistance to change amongst your workforce and business structure is an issue that’s been beaten to death by guru after guru, article after article, and website after website… and for good reason. Change management is one of the hardest things to correctly influence in the workplace, in part because the very name implies a clash between the current and the desired. It’s hard enough to make small changes, but complete overhauls are asking a lot, and knowing even how to ask is half the battle – a half that many of us haven’t yet mastered. Bottom line: People are just plain stubborn by nature, and it’s your job to ease them away from that natural tendency as needed.
A LinkedIn contributor (Divyakumar M Soneji) this past week asked how other professionals managed to get their workers on board with changes, and from the ashes of despair rose a mighty phoenix of business truth and knowledge! Alright, so maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it was exciting to watch some ideas I’ve had bouncing around in my head for a long time now be properly put into words by other professionals and practitioners. I’ve picked out the best ideas to save you the time of rummaging through such discussions and other articles yourself. If it works for you, you can thank me later.
Here are a few effective strategies you can take, use, combine, and otherwise implement to help make changes as smooth and painless as possible.
Change Your Mindset About Changing Mindsets
Starting outside of the LinkedIn discussion sphere itself, I think it’s extremely important to talk about the terminology we use when making changes in the workplace. Often, we talk about “changes in mindsets” or “changing attitudes,” and while those phrases in and of themselves aren’t problematic, if they come across as having a certain implication, they can be.
The primary implication we want to avoid is the one that a change is being forced or imposed on workers. Think of it like ‘Inception’ (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll probably instantly know what I’m getting at). Basically, the best way to get someone, or a group of someones, to go along with your ideas is to make them think the idea was their own. Sneaky, right? It’s not always completely possible, but there are always steps to be taken to get as close as possible.
The very idea that someone is changing your daily routine and you have no say in or control over it is distressing, and it’s virtually impossible to not run into stubbornness and dissatisfaction in the ranks with a brute force approach. Your first step in any change management plan should be getting yourself ready to work with people, not over them.
Walking the Walk
Workshop Initial Decisions: Through your own training and data collecting, one route forward may be apparent, but don’t take that obvious leap right away. Hosting workshops in which you invite employees to discuss the changes you have planned or to propose their own ideas does a couple of really good things. First, it gets employees in on planning and they feel like they have a stake in what’s going on, or at the very least weren’t blindsided by your changes. Even better, you’ll sometimes get a great fresh idea from your staff that can be worked into your change plans, or just may replace them altogether.
Train the Trainers: Any members of your management or change implementation team should be trained to similarly approach workers in a non-threatening and collaborative manner. Sometimes you’re working largely alone, and this won’t be a big issue.
Take a Couple of Hits: If you sense workers aren’t satisfied with proposed changes, hear them out. That said, if they aren’t comfortable speaking up or are afraid of punitive action (which is a workplace issue to tackle in and of itself), they may not be honest in face to face meetings. Outside of workshops, allow workers to anonymously participate in surveys in which they share their thoughts. The sentiment that anonymity reduces accountability may be true, but it’s hardly a bad thing in many situations; some of your most honest feedback will come this way. You might here a few things you don’t like, but these are perfect opportunities to grow.
As an aside, if there is a larger than expected disparity in what you hear face to face and what you hear anonymously, it may be symptomatic of a work environment in which employees don’t feel like they can trust their superiors.
A couple of the best ideas from the LinkedIn discussion can best be summed up as what I call “environmental conditioning.” These aren’t direct ultimatums or rapid changes, but rather things that can be done to help a workforce grow more accepting of the ideas of change and fluidity.
One great idea comes to us from commenter John Huegel, a Lean Six Sigma BlackBelt & Mentor. Huegel had the following to say on one method:
“Creating an environment where people are encouraged to experiment and fail without negative consequences will create an environment conducive to change.”
Huegel suggests that allowing for some time and effort to be put into personal experimentation can be beneficial. In the long run, these benefits probably extend beyond change management as well; with experimentation is likely to come a few genuinely good ideas, straight from the workers who will be asked to live with them.
Another of his suggestions is that we should enact (I like that word better than “force”, which he uses) small changes with a fairly high frequency to get people used to the idea of a more fluid environment. Of course, there are a couple of things to note here. First of all, these changes, despite how the whole thing sounds, should never be made just for the sake of change. There should still be rationale behind the ideas being brought in and the items that end up re-arranged as a result. Really, what he’s probably getting at is a need to be able to implement smaller changes in real time as they come about, rather than just dropping big alterations on people. It can be tempting to get everything that involves a “changeover period” done at the same time, but fear of change can be amplified by its size; you’re best sticking with small and constant.
Finally, one of the biggest takeaways from the discussion, according to many posters, was that there was no real replacement for some good ol’ fashioned book knowledge when it came to change management principles. If the above suggestions aren’t getting you through, you can always take on a small reading list in your off-time. Here’s a couple suggestions, courtesy of user Wayne Fischer:
“I recommend a small, very insightful book by one of the greats, Joseph Juran: ‘Managerial Breakthrough’ (see especially Chapter 3 “Breakthrough in Attitudes” and Chapter 9 “Resistance to Change – Cultural Patterns”). Many others like John Kotter’s ‘Leading Change’.”
Whether you hit the books, bring some of what you read here today to the table, or simply ravage Google for the next three weeks straight designing your own strategy, always be moving forward – remember, change in your own methods and strategies is just as healthy for you as change management is for your business.