Did you ever think that leading a business would involve so much talking and explaining? You talk with your managers, employees, customers, peers, vendors, the mailman, the cleaning crew and on it goes. It’s no wonder, then, when an employee says he/she doesn’t understand a change you want to make that you question if anyone has heard you.
Many important business decisions are well thought out and communicated with managers and employees. Yet, employees still don’t make the changes you need. This isn’t uncommon. How people adapt to change has been well studied in various situations from grief to business. There’s a process that people go through before they can truly act on implementing any change.1 Resistance is normal and should be expected when you begin to think about making a change. Still, how can you help employees through it?
Overcoming resistance to change
As a business owner, you spend a good deal of your time developing plans and finding solutions to problems. Your time is consumed by many different issues. Once you’ve solved one problem, another pops up to demand your attention. This is the point at which a change can begin to fail and you could be missing out on the most important factor in making your business successful—ensuring employees understand what you need from them. I’m not talking about knowing what the change is. I mean truly UNDERSTANDING and being a part of the company’s success.
Having spent most of my career in employee and leadership communications, I found that a company is always evolving to flourish. In stark contrast, many employees fear the very actions that will ensure the longevity of the company and their own future. Basically, they want their work experience to remain the same or want to make part of a change. How often have you heard team members say that they like the way the company was before more employees were hired or challenging market dynamics affected the business? Each employee has his/her own preference and degree of comfort with change.
Change is inevitable
Change IS happening more rapidly and businesses need to adapt or suffer. So, if companies are changing regularly and rapidly, shouldn’t we expect that employees would “get used to change”, adjust quicker and get on with the work that needs to get done? The number of experiences employees have with change doesn’t help them adjust. It’s the quality of how they have been included and understand the change that helps them adapt more quickly to what you need from them.2 Employees’ needs around the change must be met in order for them to be able to focus and get the job done.
As the owner of your business, you’re continually looking for ways to make improvements, increase your profits, become leaner, satisfy your workers and customers and reduce costs. You can’t do all that without occasional disruption. The question becomes how to continually improve your business while keeping your employees productive and satisfied working for you. The answer is to involve them in your business issues and improvements.
How to involve your employees
- Have conversations about your current business plans with your employees. Let them ask questions, probe your thoughts and rationale. Include the naysayers. Make sure your managers can articulate your plan and have conversations with their employees. Do this as often as it feels comfortable. Rotate the employees you’re having conversations with to get different perspectives.
- Set up environments that allow open, unstructured dialogue to occur. Coffee or lunch sessions with you or their manager. Let employees know that they can ask you anything and you will answer to the best of your knowledge. Most importantly, listen with no expectation other than to hear what they say. Afterwards, take what you’ve gathered and think on it. Incorporate what you can and keep other ideas socked away until you see a pattern of similar issues or ideas. Then act on those improvements.
- Ask your employees regularly how business or their work can be improved and what can be done differently. Employees are the experts on your business and know what your business needs. Talk to employees who directly interact with customers. What are your customers asking for that the business isn’t providing? This is where your next new business development idea may originate.
- Write down what employees say and who made the recommendations. Follow up with one-on-one conversations or get a group of people with similar ideas together to discuss. Engage them in coming up with ideas or changes. Then have them help explain the change to others.
- Recognize employees for contributing. Give them credit when possible. Use stories that include them when talking about new business ideas or changes that will make the business run better and more efficiently.
Here’s what you can do today
- Talk to your leadership team about involving employees at all levels in discussions on business direction and improvements.
- Set up a lunch meeting with 5 or 6 trusted employees to discuss how you want to get more worker input. Then set up another lunch meeting with 5 or 6 naysayers. Ask them if your approach will work in your company’s culture. Ask what would concern other employees about contributing more and owning the changes that will result. Then begin implementing consistent, timely discussions with your workforce.
If you haven’t involved employees in solutions and business development previously explain what you’re doing and why, what you expect from workers and how you’d like this new approach to be part of your culture. The larger your business becomes, the more insights you will need from employees. It’s never too late to start including your employees in growing your business.
1 Managing resistance to change, www.prosci.com, August 5, 2019.
2 Joseph B. Fuller, Judith K. Wallenstein, Manjari Raman, Alice de Chalendar, Your Workforce is More Adaptable than you think, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2019, issue, p. 118-126.
Look for our upcoming blog on:
Enhancing your employees’ skills through training and development