Engaging Employees During Change

In an Ernst & Young survey of 584 companies, a majority of them revealed that their change initiatives failed to achieve significant improvement within their organizations.  In fact, 2 out of 3 executives surveyed felt that employee morale was worse or the same as a result of the initiative and 60% of executives rated employee reaction to change as neutral, skeptical or actively resistant. 

ChangeWhy?  Well, simply put, employees are people and despite our best intentions, most of us struggle to embrace change.  We know it is culturally expected to say we like change, but the reality of it is every human being goes through a psychological transition that cannot be avoided.

Initially, change disrupts our perception of control and invokes feelings of fear, anger and resistance within us.  When there is no roadmap for the future, our imaginations start working overtime to produce answers to the unknown.  We may spend valuable energy coming up with all kinds of perceived losses. 

However, as change is implemented, we begin to inquire about, experiment with, and discover ways to help ease the transition.  This process leads us to acceptance and allows us to regain our sense of control.

To engage employees and build buy-in to change, it is critical to recognize the importance of the human transition process and provide the following key elements during implementation:

  1.  Information – Remember the expression, “bad news doesn’t get better with age”?  Be proactive and engage your employees in open and honest communication.  Ask your employees what they want to know and tell them as much as possible.  Sharing information helps prevent their imaginations from taking over and engages the logical part of their brains.  Expect that employees will ask repetitive questions and be prepared and patient in answering them.
  2. Support – Organizational change is inevitably personal.  The best change leaders listen, listen, listen.  It is not about telling people what you what them to know and think.  Rather, it is about acknowledging how they feel, encouraging open debate and dialogue and asking – “What can I do to be helpful?”
  3. Structure – When leaders change, new projects are assigned or departments are realigned, create a pathway that provides parameters but yet involves others in co-creating the future.  Drive engagement by giving people permission to find their own solutions and collaborate with others.   

Implement these basic strategies and be ahead of the game when your company does their next engagement survey!

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  1. Brian Clapp's avatar
    Brian Clapp
    | Permalink
    This is a great article. The observations and suggestions are accurate, impactful, and easy to implement. When dealing with change, it's the execution of the simple yet important basics that determine effectiveness of the effort. Increasing the focus on information, support, and structure is a great recipe for a more successful change effort.
  2. Terry Gillis's avatar
    Terry Gillis
    | Permalink
    This reminds me of the quote from William Bridges from a few years ago now -

    “Many leaders fail to realize the importance of managing transition — believing that if the structural, technical and financial changes go well, the human transitions will take care of themselves.”

    We know nothing can be further from the truth.

    Thanks for the great reminder TG
  3. Shirley Triller's avatar
    Shirley Triller
    | Permalink
    From your experience what do you believe is the biggest mistake that leaders make while executing change initiatives?
  4. Terry Gillis's avatar
    Terry Gillis
    | Permalink
    I think the biggest mistake that managers make when initiating change is they forget that others may not be as excited about the change as they are themselves. Managers can also assume everyone is on board and fail to recognize the resistors. As I always say, conflict, or negative responses, tell you a lot...probably more than what you glean from those that are adopters of change. Great thread! Thanks TG
  5. Kim's avatar
    | Permalink
    To Terry's point, I think many leaders often forget that they have been privy to the "change" longer and, as a result, are many times further down the road of accepting and embracing the change than employees who have recently learned of the change. Remembering this can help leaders to better understand where the employee is in processing the change and what's needed by the employee to move forward.

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