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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.

We can speak from some experience here: We teamed up with the world's largest coffee retailer to craft a new method of training their new baristas. New staffers had a lot to contend with, particularly when learning on the job; they had to learn how to craft the perfect caffeinated beverage (or in reality, several at a time) and engage with customers while surrounded by the noise and hectic activity of a busy cafe.

The digital training we created let the new employees practice making drinks on their own time. No excited customers in the background, no one staring at them as they worked—and the new employees loved it.

Making the training engaging and fun, as well as creating a safe space for them to learn, led to a 25% reduction in training time and 97% retention of what they learned.

That’s awesome if we do say so ourselves.


Roll out the change: Get everyone on the same page

You can plan for change all you want, but you actually need to kick it off if you want it to go anywhere.

Depending on your role, part of your job may actually be determining how to track implementation. How long will it take you to switch from one app to another, or build and deploy a new process? Will you consider a successful change when 60% of your employees have switched or 100%?

How you end up tracking and implementing change will be highly specific to your company and your employees. But keep these things at the forefront of your mind when making the magic happen:

  1. Provide documentation. Yes, a large chunk of the population learns by doing, but don’t ignore those who prefer to read or listen to their training! Provide easily accessible documentation for your employees to reference whenever they need to.

  2. Take part in it. What irritates workers more than pay cuts? When their bosses have no clue what they do or how or why they do it. You may not be out on the floor every day, but having a good grasp of what your people do day in and day out builds respect on both sides, as well as helps you become a better leader. If there's intensive training, take part in it with them—you’re all in this together.


Follow up with your employees: Keeping things positive

How do you keep employees incentivized and interested in feeling their way through a new process, program, or idea? Interesting training helps. But so does keeping in touch with them and finding out exactly how they’re feeling.

Stay on top of how things are going by scheduling regular check-ins. Don’t just chat with your managers, either; speak with the staff under them. Ask for their feedback: what’s working, what isn’t? Are there changes you could make to better the process based on that feedback?

This level of involvement in your company’s daily operations won’t just help you get a read on how the change is rolling out; it also contributes to positive and open company culture.

And speaking of positive cultures—following up can also encompass building a reward system, which encourages employees to move through training even if they really don’t want to.

You may be tempted to single out only the high performers and leave it at that. We’d like to steer you away from this; rewarding only your high performers often leads to divisions between colleagues, as those who didn’t do as well with the training become resentful of those who did.

A completion-based reward system sidesteps this potential poison by rewarding anyone who finishes a module. Depending on your company culture and finances, this can look like an extra day of PTO, or the ability to choose what snacks your kitchen will stock up on for the next month. If you’re all remote, maybe they pick out the Zoom backgrounds for a month. If you’ve cultivated a foodie culture, send gift cards for food delivery or boxes filled with ingredients so everyone can get together in a video chat and make bread.

Employees who are rewarded after they complete a section aren’t worried about their performances. That can free up a lot of mental space for learning and then getting the work done. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reward your highest performers.


COVID-19 and the challenge of swift change

A lot of companies have faced some pretty abrupt changes due to coronavirus. Businesses are now working through how to keep employees engaged while they’re remote working; some even have to re-think their entire strategy (shifting from dining in-house to offering takeout, for example).

COVID has required an entirely different way of thinking. Fast change tends to be the hardest of all. We helped one client overcome this by creating a digital training experience where each group of employees played different roles and had to complete a task entirely unrelated to their actual duties before moving on. As an example, a staffer portraying a chef had to create a limerick about each order they received.

This understandably got silly at times (although we maintain it created some creative geniuses, too), but it also got some new gears working in the participants’ minds, helping them pivot swiftly from their expected tasks to unexpected ones.

This mental flexibility is key during a COVID-type scenario. Sometimes crazy, unprecedented things will happen—but being able to think fast on your feet and buzz through change will help you mitigate the damage.

And having a plan in place for when the unpredictable occurs just puts you that much further ahead.


Keep the ball rolling

Odds are at some point your organization will need to enact some sort of change.

Whether you’re introducing a new process or changing your entire operational structure, encouraging steady communication and active participation will help your employees see change as a good thing, rather than a wholly unpleasant event.

If you’ve started working through your own organizational changes and need help educating your employees about what’s next, drop us a line. We’d love to help you create an engaging training plan!



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