Friday, April 2, 2010

Change is Inevitable

There’s an old saying that “Change is inevitable except from vending machines.” While change certainly is inevitable, it isn’t something that comes easily. Change is coming at businesses faster and more frequently than ever before. Unfortunately, people usually react poorly to change. The question for us is: “How do companies implement change without scaring employees and losing valuable productivity?”

A few years ago, the company I was at had a recreation committee which organized company events. The Christmas party was traditionally the best attended event and the format had remained basically unchanged for several years. The committee, of which I was the treasurer, decided to change things up and go with a disco theme. When the disco theme was announced, people were angry. Letters were sent to the president and some employees promised to boycott the party.

The anti-disco rebellion reached the executive committee and I was asked to defend this particular party plan. Being a relatively well organized pack rat, I brought with me the letters that had been written to the president about the party. Not the disco version, but the five year old letters from the last time the party format was changed. Interestingly, they contained the same themes: This idea is bad, no one will come, why would you change our party?

So how can employers make change go smoother? First, the topic matters. Ironically, areas that I call “comfort items” like the cafeteria, company events, office arrangements, and the dress code bring forth the most emotional responses. Business plans? Not so much. Here are a couple of tricks for successfully communicating change:

• Share information about potential changes in advance
• Ask for employees to provide feedback
• Actually listen to employee concerns

Then, pick the right thing (not necessarily the most popular) and do it. Communicate how you came to that decision and don’t waiver once you’ve done it. Remember, being a leader isn’t a popularity contest, but it is about leading, listening, and setting a vision.

Curious about what happened with the party? After it was over, our executives said it was the “best ever”. So, put on your tight pants, unbutton your shirt, and play that funky music. Change can and should be fun.

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