I was hiking in Hickory Hollow Canyon in St Genevieve, MO recently. It’s a gorgeous natural area that really is a canyon, complete with waterfalls and a stream. I have a natural curiosity to see “around the bend” to what’s on the other side. So, in true form, I went off the trail to see more. And I wasn’t disappointed! With every step and every turn, I got to see more – it was breathtaking! And it made me think about what would happen within our companies and organizations if we developed more curiosity, especially when it comes to change.
There are so many reasons for organizational changes. Leadership and management can always be curious and looking around the bend to see what comes next. Maintaining or gaining competitive advantage demands it. But leaders and managers can also be curious about how changes within the organization affect their workforce and what they can do to make transitions go more smoothly.
Change can cause a lot of stress. And a stressed workforce is not one that’s productive and performing at its best. While some employees may view change as an opportunity to grow and learn, many employees will default to anxiety and fear of the unknown. They’re left to figure out where they “fit” in the evolving workplace. They’re suddenly being asked to do “things” they weren’t hired to do and feeling overwhelmed, undervalued and vulnerable. It’s up to leaders and managers to be curious about the needs of each of their employees, create some certainty about why and how changes will be made, and reframe the change as a catalyst for opportunity.
Alan Deutschman wrote about this in his article, Change or Die. It’s a long read, but the premise is this: We typically try to get people to change with fear, facts and/or force. But what would happen if we introduce change by relating, reframing and repeating?
For many in leadership and management roles this may be a new way of thinking about change. After all, you pay employees to be productive and do their best work, and if decisions are being made that rock their world and require them to step up to the plate, you want them to comply.
The problem with that way of thinking is that employees aren’t robots. They’re human beings. And what I’ve found in focus groups across the country is:
- Human beings can only handle so much change. And too many companies and organizations have too many change initiatives occurring simultaneously.
- It’s not necessarily the proposed change itself that human beings resist, it’s that they were never asked for their input about what needs to change and why. And they’re the ones on the front lines who are responsible for executing!
- Managers and leaders don’t take the time to tell their teams the results of changes. For example, if an initiative was supposed to save X amount of dollars or make a process more efficient, the employees who were responsible for making that change need to know that their efforts were meaningful, either in terms of learning something from an effort that didn’t bring the desired result or actually changing things for the better.
The bottom line here is that change can really upset the delicate balance of your cultural ecosystem – unless you take action. Successful change requires vision, skills, incentives, resources, open communication, and an action plan. It also may require a new way of thinking about your workforce.
Be curious and look around the bend to discover what your team of human beings need to have the positive outlook to adapt, embrace change and see it as a catalyst for improvement, while feeling productive, successful and valued in their roles. That will take your workforce’s response to change from anxiety-ridden and unsettled to graceful evolution!
If your organization is struggling with change, contact me. Helping companies successfully navigate change is a big part of what I do and I can help get you back into alignment.