Stepping into the shoes of employees during change

Clearly change is not a new phenomenon, in fact, nearly 2500 years ago, a Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is quoted as saying "change is the only constant in life"  Some things never change!
However, within our lifetimes, we are seeing an acceleration of change to unprecedented levels - in both social areas and technology. Organisations and governments are struggling with how to move from the old concept of the five year medium term plan, and instead we are seeing a need for increasing organisational agility. 

But how do employees navigate this increasingly fast pace of change in both their work and home lives? It can feel as if the ground simply keeps moving and they literally struggle to find their feet!  This famous quote, by Harper Lee from 'To Kill a Mockingbird' “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” 

I recognise that many of you might be leading change or be part of a change project or program but I would like to invite you to step into the shoes of the employee for a short while and consider their view of the world – so are you ready?

"I keep hearing about a big company change, but what I don’t understand is why are we doing this and why now?"

When I go through change I want to understand, "why is this so important", "how does it impact me" and "what happens if I choose not to get on board, does it really matter?". Prosci's best practice research* tells us that the number one reason for resistance for change is lack of awareness about it.    

As an employee, it helps to see the leaders in the company and my supervisor aligned in this change. It confuses me when they say different things or don’t do what they say; it makes me think that maybe this change isn't as important as they say it is.  I know that the leaders are involved in strategy and business direction so I want them to clearly articulate about why we are doing this and the impact to the organisation if we don’t change.  

Is this about our survival, or simply a ‘nice’ to do? So its important to me that our leaders don’t just tell this once at the townhall meeting and then never mention this again. I need to be sure that this is change is needed, if it’s going to impact me, it has to matter. It helps me to hear about the project many times by them, to see them actively and visibly taking a lead throughout the life of the project. Otherwise, I worry that it’s just their current 'pet project' and may be forgotten later. In the same way, I would like my supervisor to help me really understand the actual impact on me and on my role. Is it going to affect my ways of working, or the people I work with? Will this change impact my work life balance and create challenges, for example, in getting away on time to look after my children? It would help me to understand the personal impact of the change.

"I'm really worried and anxious about this change project!"

We see from multiple psychological studies about the way humans react to change that being anxious and worried is normal, in fact it's the way the primitive part of our brain is wired. As an employee, even though I want to do a good job, I may think the worst and if I am worried it will cause me to be less productive - and that's a real cost to the business.  If information, or lack of it, stays as rumours or as unclear communication and no one helps me to really understand what is happening and why, then I might choose not to 'hang around' to find out what is going to happening, maybe I'll update my CV and see what else is out there!  Prosci's research shows that one of the costs of poor change management is losing your valued employees. That is an huge cost and good people in your team can be difficult to replace, recognising that some of their knowledge and experience may take a long time to re-establish!

"I'm going to keep my head down and hope this will all go away!"

Generally, if there is a compelling reason for the change then it won't go away.  But if employee resistance is poorly managed this can cause a project to take longer, requiring more management resources.  As an employee, I may need help to change my perspective from being a 'victim of change' to recognising how  I might contribute. However, I also understand from my supervisor that there are consequences about my choices. For example, if I choose not to 'accept' the change in cases where the change is vital (such as a regulatory change), then I might lose my job, or be assigned to another role and team. I need my supervisor to help me by explaining very clearly the detail of the change and the actual consequences if I choose not to accept this.  I can then balance this with my career opportunities in the company, job security, job satisfaction, my history working here and the people I work with.  All of this really helps me to make the best decision and feel in control of the choices I am making, even the hard ones.

Address the common employee change "fears" with the following approach

Change management is a powerful approach to help lead people through an organisational change. The Prosci® approach is structured and based on best practice research, it is supported with models, processes and tools. The role of the leader and supervisor requires a fundamental level of change capability that extends across all the organisation's projects. When an employee experiences a well-structured change program they are more likely to want to be part of it and contribute to delivering successful business outcomes:

  • Establish a structured change management approach
  • Engage and support the leadership/sponsorship into:
    • Their roles of being active and visible throughout the project
    • Communicating at the earliest opportunity the business rationale for why the change is happening and the consequences of not changing.
    • Enabling and encouraging supervisors to play their key role s
  • Work with the supervisors/managers to enable them to communicate the personal impact of the change and the consequences of not accepting it.
  • Recognise that this is one part of the change journey and employees ultimately need to be coached, ideally by their supervisor

Find out more about CMC's Alan Kendall

CMC use the Prosci® change management approach, including the Prosci ADKAR® model to support individual change journeys. Find out more about ADKAR

We offer Prosci's role based training for Sponsors, Employees, Managers and more! Take a look at our full range of change management courses in our CMC Prosci Course Comparisons brochure or find out more about: 

Get in touch if you would like a conversation with one of our team!   +44 (0) 1600 740215