Leadership Matters: Getting Employees on Board With Change

giant cruise ship sailing through blue sea
By Chris Dyer

4 minutes

Overcoming these four challenges can help avoid organizational seasickness.

So, you’ve got a new initiative you can’t wait to roll out. You’re fired up, but many of your employees are not. To them, anything that rocks the boat could cause seasickness.

How can you make change feel like a trip on a fancy cruise ship instead, one that they’ll jump aboard with anticipation and willingly help steer where it needs to go? To clear the reefs of resistance, tackle these biggest reasons that people fight change.

1. Fixed Mindset: Theirs or Yours?

Some people are more comfortable with change than others, and those who are comfy tend to see those who aren’t as problems. Suppose you find out Jim is against using a new app to track business expenses. You might peg him as slow, old-fashioned or anti-tech. Maybe he is. Or maybe he’s just be overwhelmed with learning new interfaces, having just got up to speed on his new phone and computer.

To circumvent bias on either side of the equation, initiate open conversations about the new app using positivity and good listening skills. First, don’t assume Jim has a negative view; ask, and listen to his answer with an open mind. If he digs in his heels, ask some myth-busting “what-if” questions: What’s the worst that could happen? What can you do with the time the app will save? Help him find the tools to accept the change.

2. Personal Timetables: Different Time Zones

We’re not all on the same schedule when it comes to dealing with change. For instance, maybe you’re moving toward new policies based on your organizational values and asking folks to internalize those concepts. That probably won’t happen overnight for everyone. While a new hire might jump at the chance to memorize and understand core values, a longtime employee might feel offended at having to suddenly accommodate them.

Let people’s sense of teamwork work for you here. Encouragement from peers may be better received than decrees from management. Identify the quick studies on your team and ask them to help others. Maybe one customer service representative can show another how to incorporate a 100% satisfaction value into every transaction. Then, allow time for a gradual shift.

3. Doubt: Can I do this?

Confidence plays a big role in accepting change, and skill levels and learning styles vary. Those who doubt their ability to grasp new requirements may naturally resist the change. Will I be able to learn that new software? Can I concentrate in a new open-office floorplan? Denying or ignoring these doubts will only make it tougher for individuals who aren’t certain of their abilities to handle the change.

Return to positivity mode in a roundtable discussion and provide some advance training or preparation. Those what-if questions can help dispel doubt when people see that the possible consequences are not all that dire. Often, just saying them out loud reveals that success may only involve a little extra time and effort. No big deal. So, set them up for success instead of a challenge: Give employees who learn software more slowly some extra one-on-one training or solo practice sessions. Provide noise-cancelling headphones to folks in the new cubicles you’re building.

4. Fear: What if ...?

When you’re dealing with major change, employees may naturally fear for their livelihoods. If they can’t learn a new program, can’t focus amid more distractions, or just don’t want to have to deal with core values, they wonder if they will lose their jobs.

The best antidote to fear of the unknown is sunlight, so make transparency your priority. Before your onboarding meeting, brainstorm what people might worry about. It’s best to bring up those fears openly, rather than sweeping them under the rug. Show how you’ll address any concerns: Announce a relaxed training schedule. Reserve an alcove off the break room as a quiet room. Consider how the company’s values dovetail with most people’s desire to do a good job.

Give your team as much information as possible about the new initiative, and remind them how integral they will be to its success. Use what-if scenarios to prepare them for hiccups or new directions. Tout the benefits of that cruise ship. See the world! Meet new people! Enjoy a more efficient computer network! Most importantly, stay positive as you steer your organization toward whatever new goal you have in mind. One positive experience with change will lead to more.

Chris Dyer is a recognized performance expert, speaker, and consultant. He has channeled what he has learned in his business research and as founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a leading background check company, into his best-selling book, The Power of Company Culture.

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