Everyone Hates Change, Everyone Loves Progress
There is sufficient data to verify that, in general, people hate change. It’s not even a debated topic, and yet leaders and executives across the world roll out new initiatives and plans without ever seeming to acknowledge this simple truth. Yet we all know there are innovative companies that are in a constant state of change and have no trouble modifying goals, plans, schedules and more without seeing a reduction in morale or degraded workplace culture. How is this true when most employees, “often see change as pain, uncertainty, fear, additional work, new roles, and changed responsibilities?”
As leaders, we know that change is an absolute requirement for improvement, because, while not all change is improvement, all improvement requires change. Without improvement there is no leadership present, only management. (And I mean no disrespect to managers by saying that – many managers are accomplishing more than the simplest definition of management, which is simply to maintain a pre-established system.)
What Progressive Companies Do Differently
While nearly everyone hates change, everyone loves progress. When you, as a leader, are planning to communicate change, this phrase is a great way to remember that people are at the heart of progress. Know your audience: in this case, your employees who will be experiencing the change. What do they value and care about? What would they consider progress for the company? What kind of progress do they want for themselves? Making a change without sharing how customers and employees will benefit leaves the outcome to the imagination of your audience. When your team understands the goals and what success looks like, as well as how they benefit personally, they respect the change and, of course, the leader helping them make progress.
Be sure to communicate in a way that your employees will understand. Figures and charts alone won’t address the emotional responses your employees may have. Storytelling is a great way to connect positive emotion to upcoming changes. Ask a few close team members what they feel the outcome of the change could be and share those hopes with others. “This change will increase our accounting productivity by 10%,” is far less encouraging than, “Bob over in accounting spends 12 hours a week processing these time cards, and this small change is going to save him nearly 2 hours a week. Bob, tell your wife we’re all going to do our best to get you home a little earlier each night.” You may not have the opportunity to communicate every change with this much personal attention, but if you’re aware of your teams’ values, and connect to those values intentionally, then you can communicate change better than you ever have before.
Not What You Say But How You Say It
Remember that this idea doesn’t just apply to big changes, though. Simply maintaining current levels of output requires change too, as the environment surrounding our companies and teams change regularly. Often, an external variable requires companies and teams to make an internal change simply to stay relevant and competitive. Author John Bessant summarized what is at stake quite plainly in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, “enterprises which survive do so because they are capable of regular and focused change.” Leaders, however, desire more than survival. True leaders have vision for a preferred future regarding the culture of their team, the service or products they offer their customers and employees and, yes, their company’s profits. With change being critical to an organization’s survival and success, how a leader communicates during these periods of transition becomes a keystone to the company’s future.