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Preparing Your Staff for Change

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March/April 1998 - Volume 77, Number 2

By Tim O’Brien

"The objective is not to get staff to support change, but to give them the responsibility for engineering change." Gary Hammel, Harvard Business Review

Gary Hammel’s quote embodies the key to success in preparing your staff and business for change: involve everyone in the process and confront change head on or risk experiencing the futile frustration of resisting it.

That change is inevitable, ongoing and accelerating becomes more obvious each day. Many of us cope with change by trying to make it fit into our old ways of thinking. We like how things were, we don’t want to keep growing, it takes time, energy and effort. We resist through anger, frustration and denial. However, this type of behavior is worthless. Resistance only leaves us farther behind.

Successful change management involves a flexible, organic approach to the continual challenges we face as business people and employers. Technology has permanently changed the way we transact business. And, the future promises faster, more powerful computers, modems, FAX machines, voice mail and e-mail capabilities.

Identifying the obvious about change is the easy part. So how do you actually get yourself, and your staff, up to "warp speed" to handle change effectively and efficiently. Here are some specific guidelines to help you develop and customize a program for your staff.

Guidelines Presented

(1) Define change; there are many types that will call for different strategies.

(2) Keep your staff informed; educate all affected to what you expect and also the uncertainty that exists.

(3) Involve your staff in the process of preparing for and dealing with change.

(a) Have an initial general discussion of "how should we approach change?"

(b) Actively solicit suggestions; ask "how would you handle this?"

(c) Encourage a proactive, anticipate and adapt approach.

(4) Understand the psychology and physiology of change.

(a) Change/control--more change=feel less in control.

(b) Change=possible uncertainty=diminished feeling of "being in control."

(c) "Fear of change" (change disturbs comfort level and lowers predictability).

(5) Question your assumptions.

(a) Why do you believe what you do about change (rate, frequency, impact)?

(b) Practice "out of the box" thinking--look from a different perspective.

(c) Ask people outside your profession to help you see change coming.

(d) Read widely and subscribe to trend letters or you won’t see it coming.

(6) Do worst case scenario planning, then:

(a) Work out the details in case the worst happens.

(b) Realize it seldom does.

(c) Work intelligently to insure the worst case scenario can’t happen.

(d) Be guided by positive goals and not fear of change.

(7) Be honest with your staff about the possible outcomes.

(a) Don’t encourage false optimism when practical realism is needed.

(b) If there are going to be cuts in staff, hours, pay, be up front about it.

(8) Differentiate between change within your control and change beyond your control.

(a) For change within your control,

(i) Have a master plan, for yourself, for your business, and your staff.

(ii) Set priorities, goals and allocate time effectively.

(b) For change beyond your control (weather, trends, technology).

(i) QTIP--quit taking it personally.

(ii) Recognize and accept that it exists and that you can’t micro plan for every contingency.

(iii) "Do your best and await the result in peace." (Lubbock)

(9) Develop a working model of how you and your staff plan to adjust to/handle change as it occurs--either in outline or prose form.

(a) Give everyone a copy, especially new hires.

(b) Review it quarterly and adjust/revise as required.

(c) This is an assumed future, with predictions on how people, the market, etc., respond to the changes you’ve planned for. Forecast the future and then compare to the reality that unfolds=helps with future forecasting.

(10) To help your staff with change, you will need:

(a) A leader with vision who can explain the future--give a preview of why change is good and how life will be better after the time of uncertainty.

(b) An oasis and a lighthouse

(i) An oasis of stability for comfort and security during uncertainty--a refuge from the storm of change (a break room where you don’t discuss work).

(ii) A light house with a beacon siren and a rope that gives guidance and hope to the three types of people: audio, visual and kinesthetic.

(c) To promote the positive side of change

(i) Ask what good has come without change.

(ii) Explain that you can’t correct problems without change.

(iii) For the strong, change is the opportunity to grow and expand.

(iv) Law of Entropy: "That which is not growing is dying."

(d) Differentiate between real and imaginative fears regarding change.

(i) Role play.

(ii) Verbalize fears and concerns.

(iii) Prioritize change, not all change is of equal importance or impact.

(iv) Remember the strong role education/knowledge can play in dispelling fears and empowering a person with new confidence.

When it’s negative, no one likes change. When it’s positive, like an increase in salary or a bigger office, few resist it. Success in helping your staff adjust to change will rest in how you present it to them, how effectively you encourage their invovement, and your consistent support and follow through.

You can do it. Just keep a clear vision, a flexible plan and a sense of humor. Remember, "change is inevitable, except from a vending machine."

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