The boss has a big announcement: The company is investing in a new technology. Of course, this investment is meant to make your work easier, faster, and less frustrating. It’s inspiring, really. Who doesn’t want to have more access to decision-making data and to know they’ll waste less time?
And yet the mere idea of change can bring a strong emotional response because humans are hardwired to resist. Our brains register change as a threat and release chemicals that stir up fear. Fear doesn’t have to drown out inspiration if you focus on rethinking how we deal with change and keep the idea of investing in your workforce front and center. If you understand the potential pitfalls of transformation you’ll have a much better shot at inspiring your people, getting change to stick, and realizing the return on investment you’re counting on.
These are some of the most common employee reactions to change—and key ways to respond to keep the momentum going.
1.”I DON’T KNOW WHAT LEADERSHIP IS DOING—OR WHY THEY’RE DOING IT.”
Be open and upfront. It doesn’t help anyone if rumors and gossip take over. Explain why the change is necessary and outline how it will benefit everyone. Take the time to lay it out at each level. It’s far easier to get everyone on board when you present transformation as a team effort. The numbers speak for themselves: 90% of job seekers say it’s important to work for a company that embraces transparency, according to a 2016 Glassdoor U.S. site survey.
Trust is a huge part of transparency. It might take a little time to achieve, but it’s not impossible. Encourage everyone to speak candidly about progress and pitfalls, starting with leaders. Create incentives for sharing information among—and between—departments, teams, and employees. Some easy ways to do that: establish common goals from the start, take feedback to heart, and model an open-door policy.
2.”OH, GREAT. ANOTHER TRAINING CLASS.”
Instructor-led, one-size-fits-all training isn’t very engaging. (“Bueller! Bueller!”) There’s nothing worse than watching a multi-hour tutorial only to return to your desk with no clue as to how to actually perform a new task. Training should be intuitive and on-demand so staff can access it on the go and easily integrate it into their daily lives. Allow employees to learn while doing. Make it snackable, and introduce new concepts gradually. Avoid the dreaded firehouse of information, because if it’s too drastic it simply won’t stick.
Training should also be tailored to the individual and their specific job functions. If it doesn’t resonate, and it’s not immediately relevant, it will fail. Companies spent more than $359 billion on employee training and education in 2016 (the latest figures available). But they say they aren’t getting much return on their investment, according to a study in Harvard Business Review.
3.”COMPANY-WIDE EMAIL? WHAT EMAIL?”
Do you read every email that lands in your inbox? Really read it? Staff are busy and bombarded by information. The average employee gets a whopping 121 emails per day. As a result, many emails/details are overlooked. Anytime you reference change, you’ll have a better chance of capturing interest with clear and succinct communication. And replace endless emails. Instead, think mobile notifications—short, relevant, meaningful, in the moment. Consistency is key, too, because it reinforces the transformational vision.
Incentivize new behaviors with a reward or recognition system. Then create teams of employees from different departments who should be working together (remember, disconnected isn’t a good thing) and hold them accountable to shared goals.
4.”THIS IS GOING TO BE BORING. NOT INTERESTED.”
Keep people engaged and working toward change by gamifying it. Large-scale transformation sticks when you make it interactive and enjoyable. Gamification sparks a healthy competitive spirit and helps build a collaborative culture—everyone wants their team to do well. A scoreboard also drives home the fact that everyone is driving toward the same goals and allows everyone to see how they’re contributing.
The transparency might make a few people shudder, but overall, it’s a motivator. Just think of professional sports. Scoreboards in stadiums are getting bigger and better to stoke the thrill of competition.
5.”WILL I EVEN UNDERSTAND NEW TECH? DOES THIS MEAN MY JOB IS GOING AWAY?”
Burnout and stress are real concerns—550 million workdays are lost every year from on-the-job stress, according to the American Psychological Association. When you couple that with change, which often makes employees feel unappreciated, it becomes even more important to make change less burdensome.
Remind people this transformation is for them and, when possible, lead with those benefits rather than tack them on as “alsos.” We all know how untrue those feel. Will it save them time? Cut down on repetitive tasks? Allow them to finally have room in their day to do that special project they’ve been trying to complete? Working differently brings benefits—just imagine what you’d do yourself with the freedom to think and do things in a new way.
Perhaps most important, make the changes ensure that transformation is incremental and easily doable. Slow and steady wins the race. This is the core of any major behavioral change—whether it’s getting in shape, saving money, or climbing Mount Everest.
6.”I’VE USED THE SOFTWARE. NOW WHAT?”
You want to get the most out of your big investment, right? Now go beyond adoption. Dashboards that make these goals—and each person’s part in them—obvious are a good start to driving change. Coupled with an environment where everyone is engaged, you’re more likely to reach success—and avoid being one of the whopping 70% of transformation efforts that fail, according to IDC.
Plus, it’s inevitable that more change is on the horizon. You’re investing in not only the future of your company, but also the workforce you need for tomorrow. Building a routine and practicing it will help reduce fear among employees—and help future transformation run smoothly.