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Change in the workplace is a process not an event

Five tips to help management increase its odds of success
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
By Curt Wang

When launching a significant change initiative, one of the biggest mistakes management makes is to view it as an event that happens at a single point in time. Accepting and then embracing change is a process, not an event.

No matter how well management crafts the initial announcement to staff, this should be viewed as just one of many conversations to generate employee buy-in. People naturally have resistance to change; for many, buy-in is a process that can take days, weeks or even months to achieve.

Here are five tips to help management increase its odds of success when implementing change in the workplace.

1. Don’t judge individuals by their initial reaction.
Give people time to process the change before judging their willingness to accept it.

When making a big announcement on a major change, recognize the news will instantly prompt people to mull over the personal ramifications. It is people’s natural survival instinct to immediately focus on the fear of loss or loss of control rather than to appreciate the potential benefits of change.

Don’t be surprised if some initial reactions are quite negative. Some individuals may need time to go through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief – shock and denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance – before getting on board.

2. Realize much of what is said immediately after making the announcement may not be heard.
The shock of learning about major change can start people’s minds spinning. Lost in their own thoughts, people may not be clearly hearing and absorbing important details that may be communicated.

3. Ask staff how they feel about the change.
Asking staff how they feel about the change enables management to better understand the staff’s point of view and address any concerns.

4. Provide key managers time to process and accept the change before meeting with staff.
Change needs to cascade down the organization. Executives must bring their managers onboard before managers can bring staff onboard.

Because of legitimate fears about controlling news about change, managers often hold meetings with staff before they have had a chance to process and accept the change themselves. If managers are working to convince staff change is positive, yet they are not fully committed themselves, messages from managers will be perceived as disingenuous.

5. Identify and bring key opinion leaders onboard first.
In every team, there are opinion leaders outside the ranks of management who other staff members take their cues from. There are also staff members who more quickly accept change and, perhaps, even embrace it. Enlist these key people early on as they can help set the tone for the group’s reaction to change.

Paradoxically, moving too fast can make a change initiative take longer to adopt. When management doesn’t take the time to build commitment, people act out of self-interest and fear, resulting in decisions and actions that can slow down or even sabotage management’s change efforts. By recognizing change is a process, management will be in a better place to manage the ‘people’ side of change, significantly increasing the odds of creating successful change.

Curt Wang is an executive coach at Make the Leap! Coaching. He coaches executives and professionals to reach higher levels of performance and achieve their business and career goals.

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