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Helping Employees Embrace Change in Uncertain Times

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

There are only two inevitable things in life: Change and Thanos.

It’s unlikely that the Mad Titan will be visiting your workplace anytime soon, but change—well, that’s a different story. It can be a frightening experience when it arrives at work, particularly when your staff is firmly entrenched in longtime habits.

That fear can stand in the way of necessary shifts—shifts that can change your company and the lives of your employees for the better. As a leader, you may find yourself confronting the common question: How can you help your employees accept change, and even embrace it, rather than flee it?

The quick answer: Be prepared with a plan.

The slightly longer answer: A plan gives you a map to follow and certain guideposts to hit. It’s both documentation to guide you through change and a way to ensure you and your employees aren’t flying blindly.

A good plan includes the following:

  • Communication with your employees.

  • Training for everyone, including yourself.

  • A scheduled rollout to make the change.

  • Following up with your staff to see how it’s going.

Ready? Let’s get started.


Creating a plan: Where to start?

A well-crafted plan isn’t just a handful of steps; it’s a living document that evolves as your circumstances change. It lays out the guidelines for how you’ll enact a particular change, as well as a timeline for doing so. Good plans also cover potential roadblocks and any evasive maneuvers you may end up taking to face those.

In short, it’s your best tool to soothe any fears your employees may voice.

This plan isn’t going to be something you just stash into your desk and forget about, either. Share it with everyone who will be affected by the change, whether it’s one department or the entire company.

Pro tip: Don’t just announce a change is coming and then just expect it to happen. Sit down with the rest of your leadership team—and possibly some of your managers—and craft a plan that covers training as well as implementation.

But wait, what if you aren’t a great planner?

Here’s a cheat code: hire outside help if you need to.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Some departments and firms specialize in helping companies create and implement change, and they can contribute frameworks and even training templates to your cause. If you don’t have a dedicated change department within your company, this may be the time to pull in some outside help.


Communicate with your staff: "Why do we need to change?"

You could say, “We’re making this change” and expect your employees to follow suit...but that cuts them out of much of the process. Open a conversation in person or via video chat, if possible, or by email. Acknowledge the old way of doing things and recount any successes and challenges you had with it.

From there, move on to why the change needs to happen.

  1. Exercise transparency. Maybe the software you use for project management has just tripled its rates, or a vendor has stopped offering a particular service. Being upfront about why a change needs to occur as opposed to saying, “We’re doing this, move on” goes a long way in opening employee minds.

  2. Show them the big picture. What will happen if things don’t change? Will the expensive software drain the company coffers and impact bonuses? Conversely, what good things might happen by switching to a less expensive app, or to a vendor that offers more services? Your employees are a critical component of your business; showing them why this needs to happen gives them a better mental image of what’s going on.

  3. Ask for their input. Rather than dictate what’s going to happen to them, help your employees own the change from the start. Returning to our software example, ask them what their pain points are with the current software. Do they have recommendations for other apps that might be worth a look? Even if this is a top-down change mandated by upper management, look for ways to bring staff into the strategy. Can you enlist some to assist in developing training plans?


Create engaging training: Help employees understand the change

Some changes won’t require a ton of training—but others will, and preparing for that will keep you in the good books of many employees. Dry how-to guides and video training might convey the necessary information, but they don’t always stick in the minds of your employees.

According to Edgar Dale’s educational research, up to 90% of the population learns by doing, whereas only 10% learn by reading. That means for the vast majority of your employees, being handed a bunch of PDFs as “training” will lead to frustration and lower overall retention. Instead, center your training around doing; gamification is a good example of this.