Are your employees ready to change? Employees are more apt to support change if they are ready to make changes. It means that they believe in the changes, have the time and energy to invest in the changes, and your organization outside of your department or workgroup is ready to support the changes.
For example, a CEO sent an email asking about how his executive staff felt about starting a continuous improvement process using work teams. The immediate response from several who have real-world experience with teams and continuous improvement was that the organization was not ready to adopt such a process.
They’re right. The company was in the process of making the transition from an execution or tactical mode of operation to one that is strategic. That transition was taking up all of the available energy. of its employees and the senior team.
Assess the Readiness of Your Employees
You can assess the readiness of your organization to participate in change. Instruments are available to help you assess their readiness, as well as qualitative or observational information from internal or external staff and consultants.
You'll want to answer questions such as these:
- What is the level of trust within your organization?
- Do people feel generally positive about their work environment?
- Do you have a history of transparency and open communication?
- Do you share financial information with employees and trust them to maintain its confidentiality?
- Does your organizational culture foster positive interpersonal relationships that are based on respect and the perception of equality?
- Does your organizational culture revolve around the needs of your customers?
- Are your senior staff members deeply committed to making the changes you desire?
These factors have a tremendous impact on people’s acceptance of and willingness to change. If you can start building this positive and supportive environment prior to the change, you have a great head start on the change implementation. The commitment and support of your employees are essential when change works.
Obtaining employee commitment to the changes makes all the difference when change is introduced in an organization.
A new manager once asked how she should go about getting her staff to buy into some changes she wanted to make in the operation of their department. She was informed that it depended on how she wanted to spend her time.
In managing change, you need to spend the time with the employees. The time is either spent on the front end informing staff and earning staff commitment to the changes. Alternatively, she could spend her time policing and systematizing the changes on the back end following the implementation of changes.
Any manager is going to have to spend the time. There is no way around this investment. But, it's a lot more fun and motivating when the manager spends the time helping her employees ready themselves to commit to the change. With their commitment, change moves forward—often more quickly and in ways that you never imagined when you started to make changes.
Indeed, if staff members reacted unfavorably to the change, if the manager failed to obtain their support and commitment, she might even have her ideas sabotaged and/or an open position or two to fill. Employees vote with their hearts and with their feet. The employees most frequently leave ineffective managers, not their jobs.
At the minimum, without their commitment, her staff would experience a lack of motivation and feelings of disgruntlement.
The manager in this example chose the first path, but not all managers do. You need to recognize that if you want your employees' wholehearted commitment to any change, you must involve them. The employees you expect to implement the change must be involved in the creation of the change.
That doesn’t mean that they set the ultimate goal by consensus, but you must involve them significantly in defining the picture of what you want to attain on the far side of change. You also need to involve them in the details about how to get there.
If you want to foster employee commitment to change in an environment in which employees are ready for change, you must involve the employees. They need to help you:
- Design the changes,
- Implement the changes,
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the changes, and
- Determine the tweaks to the changes necessary to create ongoing continuous improvement.
Employees will never wholeheartedly support a change that they were not involved in creating. Trust this and believe it. You will forever have to deal with a degree of employee resistance to change.