What’s going to happen to me?

The biggest challenge facing businesses today is change. Very few people love change. Most fear it. And for good reason. Life is uncertain, but if you’re employed you can at least bank on a regular paycheck. So when the boss starts talking about implementing changes at work employees react in two ways. Ordinary worriers think, “How will this change affect me?” Catastrophic thinkers imagine outcomes a lot worse. A good HR manager will be aware of both types and try to ease the transition for everyone.  

Change requires people to move outside their comfort zone, something people don’t like to do. When it's first introduced, people focus on what they have to give up rather than what they’re gaining. As a result, they only see the negative. We’re all guilty of overthinking things. As soon the words “The boss wants to see you,” are uttered the immediate assumption is it’s something bad. “We’re going to be implementing some changes” will strike unassailable dread into the hearts and minds of catastrophic thinkers.

To prevent this, it’s important to know that managing your staff’s motivation and appreciation through the process is critical to a successful end result. These tips should help guide you through this dreaded process.

Tip No 1: Leave no one behind

If they’re not going to be laid off, they need to be reassured up front. On the other hand, if they are being retrenched, you need to let them know straight away so they can start looking for a new position. Give them time to do that; with the proviso that it won’t impact on their projects, allow them to go to interviews during work hours.

I have to baby my staff?

Yes and no. You see, the worriers might say that the change you want to implement are great and are behind you every step of the way. Then they’ll start pointing out reasons why the change is a bad idea. They genuinely think they’re helping you and would be offended if you disagreed. They see themselves as anticipating future problems that need solutions now. You see them as being obstructive. They’re trying desperately to make themselves valuable because, in their minds, the reason you want to change things is because they’ve done something wrong. Reassuring them through this process will help alleviate some of these doubts. Ensuring them you’re going to be there through the process and they’re not going it alone will reassure them this is a team effort.

Tip No 2: Delegate

If possible, give them a task that relates to the change you want but also helps with a concern of theirs. For example: You’re moving offices and a member of staff with no transport is concerned he won’t be able to get to work anymore and therefore will lose his job. You could ask him to research the nearest bus routes and stops, train stations, underground entrances, ferry stations and taxi ranks to the new location, write up a report and distribute that information to the staff. In other words, allow staff to take ownership of the process. 

The common causes of catastrophic thinking

Even rumours of changes are catastrophic thinking starter scenarios. Being annoyed at staff for indulging in gossip isn’t going to help you bring about the changes you require. Rumour and water-cooler politics are the biggest drivers of distress in a company that’s undergoing change, especially if there’s a company culture of not trusting management. Once you lose the trust of your staff almost nothing will bring it back.

Remember you know all the facts. Your staff doesn’t. Say money is draining out of the company and you’ve narrowed it down to a specific system. Thankfully, you’ve found a new one which will solve the problem. But it’ll require the staff to do things completely differently. You’ll first need do trial runs. Then the software that is the cause for the change will need to be implemented. There will need to be training – which will have to be fitted in around everyone’s already hectic work schedules - and a new company policy with guidelines and rules implemented. It all sounds fair and like a good idea – unless you’re the person that designed the old system. It’s easy to see how quickly catastrophic thinking will hit.  And it’s catastrophic thinking that makes change management a challenge.

Employees know and resent the fact that they’re the ones that have to handle the fallout of change in any company. Managing the change well is management’s responsibility. Bad bosses try to nip resistance in the bud, often resorting to statements like, “We’re making changes, it’s going to affect some people. I don’t want to debate it. Just do as you’re asked, please. I catch anyone spreading rumours, I’ll fire them.” The rumours will start as they leave the boardroom. Water cooler gossip has a frighteningly strong hold on people. It’s management’s fault if water cooler gossip gets in first.

Others try the “I’m the captain of this ship,” routine. These are generally bosses who’ve lost control, and respect, a while ago and have to apply heavy-handed tactics to bring everyone in line. 

Tip No 3: Communication is key

It is, in fact, the most vital key. It’s imperative that employees know what the change is, why it needs to be made, how it will benefit the organization and how it will benefit them. Keeping them informed, listening to their concerns and involving them in solutions is a good idea in more ways than one - they may have insights or answers that will make the necessary transition easier. Make sure you tell your staff what changes need to be made and how you’re going to achieve that. Be up-front, open and understanding. Make sure your managers are in the loop and available to staff.

Handled correctly, change can make your staff even more loyal and committed to your organisation than ever before.

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