10 Ways to Manage Positive Change in the Workplace

May 16, 2018


Change Management Best Practices for Satisfied Employees

When your organization is considering a major transformation, multiple factors compete for attention: project costs, implementation details, technology needs and more. So many tiny details can make or break the success of any new initiative. But often the biggest hurdle to a successful workplace change is one that receives insufficient consideration: employee acceptance.

People resist change for a variety of reasons. But with the right approach, including plenty of planning, communication and support, you can overcome potentially negative behavior and turn employee resistance into employee engagement.

These top 10 change management best practices will help ensure that your workplace retains and attracts your most valuable resource – your employees.

  1. Involve as many voices as possible, early on. This may seem obvious, but when driving a new initiative, the desire to blaze forward often undercuts inclusion from individuals and entire departments. While it may be tempting to take a top-down approach to change in the workplace, it’s rarely the most effective tactic. Change must come from within.

    Rather than simply presenting employees with a proposal, make sure they have opportunities to provide input and help shape the plan. Identify everyone who will be affected and then solicit suggestions, gather feedback and find out what concerns exist. If it’s difficult logistically to survey or speak with everyone who will be affected, work with a representative group. Lastly, once you have a solid grasp of what will work well and what needs to be changed, make sure you have general agreement among stakeholders before moving forward.
  2. Evaluate organizational readiness. No matter how much promise a proposed initiative holds, the situation can sour quickly when you don’t have the resources to carry it out properly. What company resources – IT, HR, etc. – will be needed? How much physical alteration to your facilities will take place? Do you have the budget for a major shift, and what type of financial cushion is there for any unforeseen costs?

    Knowing the answers to these questions and addressing them before implementation will help keep employee frustration levels to a minimum when the inevitable hiccup occurs.
  1. Clearly explain the rationale behind the change. It’s human nature to want to know why something is happening. Too often, however, “management” informs lower-level employees about a major change without explaining the thinking behind it, and team members end up feeling powerless and resentful.

    A better approach is to communicate the reasoning so that employees can achieve what psychologists call “cognitive closure,” which is the idea that people want to eliminate distress caused by a fear of the unknown. As a bonus, explaining the rationale may spark ideas that hadn’t occurred earlier, thereby leading to a more successful strategy overall.  
  2. Show employees the direct benefits they’ll receive. Let’s face it – we all what to know what’s in it for us. We can’t overstate how critical it is to communicate exactly how an individual will benefit from a workplace change. Employees may be worried, for example, that a move to a new scheduling platform means they won’t be able grab their favorite conference room whenever they want. Here, you would want to describe how they’ll be able to find workspaces more easily, identifying open rooms without having to visit them or read a digital sign, and then reserve rooms with a simple button click.

    Also, if applicable, show them what direct benefits your customers will receive. This can be a powerful incentive to accepting change. At same time, don’t gloss over what employees may perceive as negative or unwanted effects. If they sense you are sugarcoating reality, they will be less likely to trust the plan.
  3. Address concerns BEFORE the changes are established. Even if you’ve laid the groundwork and have gathered input from a wide audience, individuals at your organization will likely still have concerns. As a leader you may have a good idea of what the sticking points will be, but the actual concerns may surprise you. Discuss these pain points beforehand and really listen before beginning any new implementation.
  4. Communicate what isn’t changing. As a plan is being refined and readied for launch, communicate what will stay the same after it goes into effect. One of the reasons people resist change – even when overwhelmingly positive effects are anticipated – is that humans tend to be wary of the unknown. Emphasizing what isn’t changing will create a vital sense of stability and control on the part of employees.

    For example, if your company is moving to an office hoteling model, let individuals know how they will still be able to choose their desired desk areas and still have dedicated lockers or drawers to safely store their work and private possessions. Or, if your organization is installing occupancy sensors and your reservation policies allow, reassure employees that they won’t “lose” a reserved room if they’re late to a meeting but instead will receive a prompt asking if they want to release that space.
  5. Start small. After spending a lot of time and energy creating a detailed change plan, it’s tempting to launch a splashy rollout that will showcase all the hard work your cross-departmental team has put into this new project. Resist the temptation! Start with a pilot project, which will enable a deep dive while allowing for adjustments should they be necessary.

    One shining example of this is RAND, whose radical office redesign led to increased job satisfaction, better productivity and a healthier bottom line. The company used a small test project, in just one wing of one office, to discover the optimal design for its modern workspace. The pilot was so successful that only two of the 63 affected employees wanted to return to the old design.
  6. Display early successes. When you’re heads-down in a radical change, it’s easy to forget that not everyone around you sees what’s working well. Be sure to tout any early successes. This will boost project credibility throughout your organization, and it can help win over the employees who weren’t 100% onboard to begin with. Surveys and direct quotes from employees can provide positive proof of your progress. In addition, demonstrating early accomplishments can give momentum to the entire project.
  7. Give employees – and your change management leaders – time to adjust. Even the most adaptable employees need an adjustment period. Before a change goes into effect, give a significant heads-up about when the project will begin. During implementation, remember that the plan will not run perfectly at first, and allow employees time to adapt to new routines. And after change is significantly underway, give yourself enough time to react to new information and modify accordingly.

    But there’s a caveat: You don’t want to give employees too much time to adjust. At some point (and the exact timing will depend upon the nature of the project), you will need to permanently remove or block the old processes so that employees can’t drift back to old routines.
  8. Prepare for ongoing monitoring. Change doesn’t happen once; it’s an ongoing process that will likely generate some surprises along the way. As you monitor developments, keep an eye out for supportive employees who could be engaged as company evangelists. And as you see positive changes, reward them. For example, if your company saved significant real estate costs with a switch to hoteling, consider putting some of it back into the workplace in ways that directly benefit (and can be seen by) employees.

Following change management best practices can lead to huge payoffs and a happier, more engaged workforce. If you’re thinking about implementing new initiatives at your organization, our professional services strategists can help assess the needs in your workplace and provide valuable suggestions. Schedule a demo to get started.