How to prepare your employees for positive change?
As the saying goes, “Change is the only constant” and this has become commonplace in today’s economy. Various industries are facing disruptive innovation from technology, going through restructuring exercises or mergers and acquisitions. We have seen Hewitt Packard split itself into two companies, Anheuser-Busch InBev (owner of Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois) acquire SABMiller (owner of Miller Lite, Peroni and Fosters) to become a dominant player in the beer industry and global companies like Lego, Grundfos, Google and Groupon going through restructuring initiatives to make their businesses more cost efficient and revenue effective.
The change vision and strategy usually comes from the top management like how a ship captain charts a direction towards a new destination. When the ship will reach its destination and how well the ship will steer requires the captain to work hand in hand with his crew. If the crew does not believe in the Captain’s foresight, you can expect a lot of resistance and resentment from them. This can impede the journey and unwittingly create sabotaged scenarios even if the Captain has good intentions for his crew.
The same goes with the corporate world today. When top leaders set a new vision and strategy, they expect their employees to drive change within the organization and be proactive enough to speak up when things are not going right. In an ideal situation, employees readily buy into the new vision and take ownership of this new change through self-initiated dialogues, collaboration across teams and a commitment to make the change stick. HR leaders know that it takes more than just a slew of emails from corporate HQ and regular forums to make the change effective. As agents of change, HR is instrumental in preparing their employees for positive change. Many top leaders and HR practitioners will agree that for effective change, mindset precedes strategy, but what exactly does it mean to have the right mindset towards change? How can we as a HR community make our employees more proactive, positive and embrace change in the organization? Here are 3Cs HR leaders can “build” into their employees to make change stick:
I came across an article recently that spoke about curiosity quotient. How do employees respond when new changes happen? Some may choose to lament about the “same old changes”, some may just follow while a selected few might become curious about this change initiative and how it impact them, the team and the organization. People become curious if they care enough about the topic. For example, if you were cared about environmental sustainability and water issues, you might be curious enough to find out which companies focus on water sustainability and what projects they are participating in to make the world a better place.
HR can build curiosity in their employees by changing the way they communicate change initiatives. Rather than inform, sell! Rather than tell, ask! When you have convinced employees on the benefits of a change initiative, engage them with questions to think about. However, building curiosity alone does not mean employees will voice out their thoughts unless they have the next C.
When top leaders lament about the lack of proactive behaviors of their employees, it is important to trace the root cause rather than focus on the symptoms. For example when a CEO announces a new change initiative, employees may a tendency to talk among themselves about their thoughts & feelings rather than voice it out. They may choose a reactive or non-responsive behavior when the changes happen. Does this mean that these employees are not proactive and they need to be “fixed”? Before jumping to conclusions, there can be many factors resulting in this behavior that are as follow:
- It could be a culture aspect where employees do not have a tendency to voice out their thoughts. Speaking to their supervisors may take more courage than other cultures. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions provide a very good basis for this.
- Employees do not feel secure about their jobs and lack the courage to speak up for fear of losing their livelihood.
- The current organization setup does not advocate employees to be vocal and employees lack the courage to “rock the boat” for fear of offending the stakeholders and peers.
Some call it commitment while others call it accountability. Whichever it is, change management is effective only when employees are committed to the cause. After building in curiosity and giving the employees courage to speak up, HR has to give them an avenue to voice their ideas and suggestions to the stakeholders. It has happened too frequently in many organizations where top management do not listen to the employees’ voices even though the leaders advocate an “open door” policy. Leaders have to take the time to listen and explain why certain suggestions do not work. This helps to increase employee commitment to the change and develop their ability to think more strategically and holistically.
As we usher in 2016, I hope that our HR community will have the curiosity to ask the difficult questions to the business stakeholders, the courage to make big waves in the HR world and the commitment to building a better HR community.