When change happens, most people cringe. Why? Because it means that they have to move out of a place of comfort to a place of uncertainty. Nobody really likes to do that.
Even if the change is positive and will help people work faster, better or safer, most people will resist. When people are asked to change we can expect varying degrees in loss of engagement. Loss of engagement has a wide range of impacts and they all have a price tag. There will be a decrease in productivity. Quality will slip on the products and services provided by those impacted. There will be more negative water cooler talk. More importantly, this can eventually define the culture of the organization.
We know change is constant. We are all impacted by changes every day. So, how can we switch the paradigm and instead of allowing change to have negative consequences, use change to have positive outcomes?
Do You Like Change?
Let’s try something. Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Write, using your dominant hand, a two to five-word phrase you write all the time, doodle a doodle you draw consistently, or simply write your name. Easy right? Now do the same thing using your non-dominant hand. (I will pause here because this will probably take you some time…)
If you did this exercise, and are not ambidextrous, I am guessing you:
- Giggled a bit at how awkward it felt using your non-dominant hand.
- Are still looking at how different your results are and how significantly the quality went down with the second attempt.
- Are taking note at how much longer it took using your non-dominant hand or how much your productivity decreased.
Now let’s talk about how you felt during the exercise. I am guessing the first attempt felt natural. It felt comfortable. That you felt successful. This means it was easy for you to engage in this task.
The second attempt probably made you feel awkward and clumsy. You felt like you weren’t good at using your non-dominant hand or that you were not successful with the task, which means it was harder for you to be engaged in the work.
The HOW is More Important than the WHAT
WHAT we are changing is not nearly as important as HOW we are changing it. HOW the change is introduced, deployed, and implemented is vital to avoid the loss of engagement from those being impacted. If we don’t concern ourselves with the HOW, we will end up with disengaged employees. And beyond the loss of productivity and decrease in quality, the risk of flight is real. Have you ever witnessed or been a part of a sudden increase in voluntary departures in an organization? You can’t put a price tag on the loss of knowledge and experience that walks out the door.
At work we routinely experience more than one change at a time. Let’s say, for example, an individual is currently adjusting to five or ten different changes at work. And let’s say that this individual has not been trained in their role during times of change. Also, let’s assume that the project teams creating these changes failed to integrate change management into their project plans. How frustrated, overwhelmed, awkward, and clumsy do you believe this individual is feeling right now when completing their work? The consequences of poorly managed change actively creates disengagement.
To increase employee engagement, change management needs to be applied at an organizational level AND at a project level. This will not only increase the success of our business improvements, but more employees will feel comfortable and successful when dealing with change. Developing and deploying an Organizational Change Management Program will not only have a positive impact on the associated costs of a disengaged workforce, it will create the foundation for a healthy and positive culture.
Everybody Plays a Role in Change
With change happening constantly, we need to get good at change itself. Engaging everyone in the organization to perform their roles in times of change is essential. Do the executives understand that they need to be active and visible during the life of the change? Do they understand that they need to build a coalition and communicate often about the change? Many executives I know think they are doing a good job at sponsoring, but in reality, there is often room for improvement.
What about the managers and supervisors in the organization? Are they expected to ensure that their employees are successful with the changes that are impacting them? Do they understand that they need to advocate for these changes? Do they know that they should act as a resistance manager, a coach, and a liaison? Managers and supervisors should be having 2-way conversations with their employees regularly about the changes impacting them.
Finally, do the employees in the organization feel empowered to understand the changes? Have we taught them how to not be a victim to change? Providing our employees an environment where they are free to ask questions and provide feedback is essential. Employees are often the ones impacted by the changes and we should ensure that they have a framework that allows them to engage in the change so that they can realize success.
Organizations Don’t Change – People Do
I usually end presentations or discussions with this tidbit of insight because it is so true. We read about how an organization implemented a large ERP project. Or we hear about how another agency undertook a large reorganization. These types of stories make us feel like the organization is a living breathing thing – something that changes on its own. The reality is that the organization only changes when the people within it change. Each individual has to adjust and adapt to change in order for the organization to change.
And in order for the benefits of the changes to be realized by the organization, you must consider and address the people side of change. When you do, you will find that people will become engaged with the changes and adapt to them quickly. They will achieve success in the desired future state. Only then will the organization achieve its desired future state.
If you want to learn more about employee engagement, try this great post called 3 Steps to Employee Engagement by Lori Okami. This is a phenomenal post. Thank you, Lori, for taking the time to write and post – it is very much appreciated!
Michelle Malloy is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She has been a devoted Colorado state employee for nearly 13 years. In that time, she had dedicated herself to being the best steward leader possible, ensuring that everyone and everything left in her care are nurtured and developed in order to provide the best value and service to the citizens of the state of Colorado today and into the future. Michelle’s expertise lies in strategy, program management, project management, change management, process improvement, facilitation and working with people. Michelle believes that people are the government’s #1 asset and the products and services we aim to provide and improve upon would not happen without them. You can read her posts here.