We often hear that people are resistant to change. Yet change is constant – we can’t avoid it, and, if we believe the Darwin quote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
How, then, can we bring change into an organization in a positive and flourishing way, that will actually increase the strength of our organizational capabilities, without getting mired in the resistance and inaccurate rumours that inevitably seem to follow?
Here are a few tips to consider when you are crafting that first change announcement.
When you announce a change, you could be throwing people into a state of shock.
The first reaction to a new situation is to suddenly freeze and wait to see if the situation is safe or not. This is a state of caution. It’s normal – so you should tailor your announcement to increase a sense of safety. How do you do that? Communicate what doesn’t change. We are often so focused on the change itself that we forget that, really, most of the world is going to stay the same. Are you changing leadership? People’s day-to-day tasks are probably going to stay the same. Are you introducing new technology? People’s reporting structures and job descriptions will probably stay the same. Are you changing buildings and office space? While there will be physical disruption, reporting structures will stay intact. You get the idea. Communicating what doesn’t change increases a sense of safety.
Think about the change from the employee’s perspective.
It’s true – in times of change, people think about themselves first. The “what’s in it for me” bias is alive and well. It’s hard-wired in our brains. You can’t change it. So since you will be activating this bias, make it work for you. Consider how this change looks from your different employee groups – and then tailor your announcement to answer their concerns. For example, might a new technology announcement raise fears of lay-offs? Address this right at the outset – no headcount reduction will occur as a result of this new technology.
Tell people where to go with their questions.
There will always be questions. No change announcement has ever been crafted that answers every single question that every single stakeholder has ever had. So you may as well be prepared for questions. Is there a website on your intranet that you can direct people to? Should they speak with their direct supervisor? Is there a project manager who can field incoming questions? Should they call the Helpdesk? Whatever system you set up for answering these questions, ensure that those resources are available and knowledgeable. If you ask people to contact the Helpdesk, but they’re all on vacation, then you will increase cynicism about the change, right from the beginning.
Run your change announcement by a test group.
Before you send your change announcement out to the thousands of stakeholders who need to receive it, ask a few friendly stakeholders to read it over first – and get their initial reactions. Are they worried? Are they surprised? Does your announcement make them relieved? Are there words that they don’t understand? Are there concepts that they are hearing for the first time, that need more explaining? You can learn a lot from this pilot test group – and then incorporate their feedback, and consider finding a second test group to read this new announcement. Yes, this takes time – but the final result is worth it – and can save you a lot of time later because now you don’t have to answer as many questions, or deal with as much resistance.
Overall, creating that initial change announcement is more complex than most change leaders realize. This first announcement to your stakeholders can set the tone for the overall change project. Considering the people side of change, and planning accordingly, can create more success and resilience for your organization now and in the future.