Street Smarts for Change Management

Nine secrets of organizational change your employees won’t tell you

Jeff Cole
Contributor: Jeff Cole
Posted: 04/27/2014

Sometimes it feels like change is everywhere we look. The frequency of change, the amount of change, and the complexity of those changes are greater today than at any point in human history. It’s no wonder then that when you change a process in your organization things don’t always go as planned.

Here are some important things your employees won’t tell you about change:

#1: "We’re scared of change"

We won’t come right out and say it, but it feels at times like we’re barely in control here. We just get the hang of how to do something and it changes. We’re concerned it will be disruptive to the pattern we have grown accustomed to. We need you to be as clear as possible in describing the change so we know what to expect.

Oh no….not more change?!?

#2: "We want to hear it from our boss"

We get so many changes coming at us, the first thing we do is ask our direct boss if we really have to do what you asked. If you want to speed things up, be sure we hear about any new changes from our direct boss.

#3: "Don’t expect us to hear it and remember the first time"

Your carefully crafted email announcing your process change is just one of 154 emails I may get today. Chances are I won’t remember. If you really want us to know about it and remember, please tell us multiple times and in multiple ways.

#4: "We don’t all think the same – or think exactly like you do"

Employees are not herds of sheep that simply follow the leader. We’re complex creatures who each have different perspectives. We think at different speeds, in different sequences, and focus on different questions. What makes sense to you as you sit in your office writing a change communication may not necessarily make sense to us. If you want your message to get across, think about the change from our perspective and be sure to address the questions we’ll have.

#5: "It takes time for us to get used to the idea"

Big changes are a shock to our system – mentally emotionally, and resource-wise. You can lessen that impact if you give us time to get used to the idea before implementation.

#6: "We’re resisting the change because we think it’s the right thing to do"

We don’t come into work each day thinking "How can I screw up the company today?". If we’re not following your process it’s either due to ability (I don’t have the information, access, permissions, training, etc. to follow the new process) or willingness.

If I am unwilling to follow your new process it’s likely that I find the new way more painful than the old way and think that not following the new process is the best thing to do. I may have misunderstandings that lead to this. You may want to explore ways to make the rationale and benefits very clear to me and find ways to make it hard for me to follow the old process.

#7: "We’re not engaging because we think you’ll self-destruct"

No one will raise their hand and tell you this, but we’ve been here for quite a while and seen changes like this come and go. We’ve learned that if we just stay in the shadows and wait it out, this change will self-destruct. If you want us to engage, you’ll have to tell us how this will be different than before.

#8: "We’ll engage if we feel like we were involved in the decision"

Life today is full of indignities and struggles. We don’t want another change shoved down our throats from some anonymous corporate staff office. We’ll be much more likely to engage if you involve us in the decision and design process along the way. We’ll feel a sense of ownership and feel like we have a hand in our own destiny.

#9: "My capacity to absorb this change isn’t the same as the person in the office next to me"

My ability to absorb your proposed change is a function of how much capacity I have to take on more change. That mental, physical, and emotional capacity is determined by what is going on in not only my work life but my life outside work as well. We don’t all have the same capacity to absorb. I may be fine, but the person next to me just had his mother in law move in, his basement flooded and his dog bit him. He may be a tad bit distracted when you unveil your plans.

There you have it, straight talk from those on the receiving end of your changes. Great info to keep in mind as you proceed to roll out your next change!

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Jeff Cole
Contributor: Jeff Cole
Posted: 04/27/2014


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