There’s the old adage, “People hate change” and then there’s its converse, “People love change.” Both are true. It’s not that people don’t like change, they just don’t like change they don’t like. But, if you 1) provide CLARITY around the topic and 2) give people more CONTROL over their destiny, the transition from the old state to the new state will improve.
Transitions cost money and adoption takes time. It slows productivity. It takes training. And, it takes open and honest communication. Your job as a manager is to speed up the adoption from the old environment to the new environment. Fortunately, our ability to adapt is improving.
Think about the adoption of different technologies and how we are adapting to them faster. It took the telephone 39 years to move from a 10% adoption rate to 40%. It took the smartphone just 2 ½ years.
We are consuming more and more information in shorter periods of time as well. Many years ago I saw a quote that said, “If you read today’s New York Times cover to cover, it would contain the same amount of information that a person in the 15th century would have learned in a lifetime.” And that article was before LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Our consumption of data is only growing, but so is our ability to consume it.
Instead of acquiring information just at home or in the office, we are taking it in while standing in line, on the airplane, on vacation and sometimes in the car – albeit sometimes not safely. In my first job I didn’t have email that connected outside the company walls. Can you imagine that now?
Change is all around us and varies in size and scope. It could be your spouse unexpectedly asking you to stop at the store on the way home to pick up a loaf of bread to hearing that your company was just acquired. Both are deviations from what you planned. As a person communicating change, think about the following two aspects to make the transition go more smoothly.
People adapt more quickly to a new environment when they have more CONTROL and more CLARITY. Now, how do you do this?
We like to have some control of our destiny but most of us realize that there are factors outside our influence. The more influence a person has, the more comfortable they will be moving into the new reality. I have merged over 40 companies and when employees first hear the news they often think they have no say in what the future looks like. But that is not always true. Both manager and employee have a responsibility in this situation.
While an employee is in charge of his/her career, a manager should help. Of the three times my employer was acquired, I made sure my boss knew my career goals and that if my current job was to be eliminated or changed, I would be interested in a new opportunity. Each time I came away with more responsibility, a greater role and more satisfying work. I took control of my destiny and my manager asked the right questions and listened. It’s a two-lane road.
When faced with a change, people generally go through 4 phases (Denial, Resistance, Exploration, and Acceptance). This is based from research Elisabeth Kubler Ross did in the 1960’s on patients who were dying and the emotions the families experienced. Similar emotions crop up at work. As a manager, your job is to understand where a person is on this continuum and provide the appropriate level of support. Asking these four questions will help a person figure out how to gain more control.
1. What do you think or feel about this change?
2. What could you gain?
3. What could you lose?
4. What can you influence?
Sometimes people realize they don’t want to be part of the new reality and decide to leave. That’s o.k. as you want them to find a place where they can be most engaged.
People want to know what is going on but they also realize that some information isn’t known but will unfold over time. As you may not know everything, “I don’t know” is a very reasonable response. It’s even better when followed by “let me find out more information and get back to you by next week.”
Whenever I acquired a company, I would hand out a FAQ on announcement day with about 40 questions already answered. People care more about what will happen to their job, their benefits, and their salary before they want to hear about how great this is for the company and shareholders. So that’s where I focused. We first need to feel comfortable with “How this impacts ME” before we can get comfortable with “How this impacts US.” Responding to these issues will then allow you to focus on the broader reasons for the merger and eventually move people forward.
Sometimes my answers were very specific and sometimes vague with an estimate of when I might know. I would then follow up with another set of FAQs a week later as more information was firmed up. A question often arises about how much one can say. Chances are you can communicate a lot more information than you think. Read my recent post titled “When Should You Lie In Your Communications?” to learn more.
To find out what a person wants or needs to know and help them get it, ask the following:
1. What information do you need?
2. How can you get that information?
3. Who has that information?
4. What are the next steps you can take to move yourself forward?
The CEO of Phillips Petroleum once said, “We can’t wait for the storm to blow over. We have to work in the rain.” I agree that we must continue working during turbulent times but it will sure help if we can communicate when the sun will come out and make sure people have the right gear to weather the storm. Giving them more control and clarity will definitely blow the bad weather out of the way more quickly.