The following is adapted from It’s Never Just Business.
Ask any organizational leader how their team members would react to a big change, and they’re likely to say that fear would be the default reaction.
Here’s what’s funny: I don’t think people actually fear change.
In my experience, most people are afraid of the potential loss associated with change. And to make matters worse, most people are terrified by the unknown. When presented with a change, people start wondering how it might affect them negatively. And without evidence to the contrary, most people leap to the worst possible conclusion.
Some people in management feel it’s best to keep company plans quiet. These managers fear transparency because they don’t trust their employees to act in the best interest of the company if they perceive they will be negatively impacted.
The downside of this strategy is that no one is going to get behind a change strategy if they don’t know how it is going to impact them. Human nature is to assume the worst. Employees will drag their feet, look for another job, or work to undermine the change.
When it's time to change, how do you get buy-in inside and outside the organization to avoid fear and other types of backlash? That’s what we’ll look at in this article.
Don’t Hide from the Truth
When your organization needs to change, the best way to overcome the initial wave of skepticism is to sit down with everyone and be transparent about what you know and what you don’t know, and what has been decided and what you still need to figure out.
The project and change managers assigned to develop and execute a plan need to understand it’s not as simple as defining the project and identifying tasks.
They also need to talk with everyone involved and affected, and ask about their feelings, thoughts, and concerns, then incorporate solutions for those concerns in your change strategy.
It’s important to encourage everyone to share their concerns and fears and address them as quickly as possible. If you just tell team members it’s going to be fine, they won’t believe you. This is a surefire way to create a mass exodus from your company and completely hamstring your ability to move quickly to implement the change.
Instead, identify the plan for change with them and the impact it will have on them, especially those that will be negatively affected by the change.
Work to eliminate any resistance associated with the unknown. People don’t resist change—instead, they fear the potential loss associated with change.
When people have clarity, even if the outcome is not ideal, they have choice. And clarity makes seeking their fortunes elsewhere the greater unknown. Remember, choice overcomes fear of the unknown and helps people to engage in the process.
Encourage Active Listening
When you’re meeting with team members to explain new changes, have them engage in active listening. This ensures they truly understand what’s going on.
Some people see active listening as simply sitting and really focusing on what someone is saying with an occasional “Uh huh, I see.” That’s actually passive listening!
The point of active listening is to try and understand, then ask questions when things don’t make sense. If you’re not asking questions, you’re not trying to understand, and you’ll miss something. It’s much better to stay engaged and ask questions throughout, creating a two-way dialogue and establishing a strong understanding.
Here are some questions you can encourage your team members to ask:
“Why is this a problem?”
“Why should we make this change?”
“What are we hoping to gain?”
As you explain, give them permission to interrupt you and paraphrase back their understanding of what you’ve shared. This will allow you to clarify points they’re not clear on and improve the quality of the picture that is developing in their head.
Paraphrasing communicates the points they understood accurately and gives them the courage to challenge your vision, if necessary, for the sake of a better outcome.
Change Doesn’t Have to Be Misunderstood
By not shying away from the truth of change and encouraging your team members to engage in active listening, you’ll help them develop a comprehensive understanding of not just the change, but the vision behind it. That’s because you’re forcing each team member to think more deeply about the change than they had previously.
This exercise almost always causes their initial vision to evolve into something crisper and more beneficial for the team. This evolution of thought through active listening is what leaders do. We lead people. We help them see things differently for their benefit.
We lead them to better conclusions and help them get clarity for the “why” behind the change.
For more advice on helping your team members adjust when change comes to the organization, you can find It’s Never Just Business on Amazon.