Facilitating Change in the Workplace

Your CEO just got back from a conference and “knows” how to make your life easier with the latest silver gizmo. Sigh.  Your coworker actively ignores the new procedure for accounts payable, which causes double (if not triple) work for you.  Grrrr.  Your direct report never communicates progress on the new initiative your boss told you to implement.  Ugh.  Change in the workplace is ceaseless.  It will not stop.  If it does stop, so will the enterprise.  Every organization has to adapt or perish.  Just ask Blockbuster, Kodak or Borders.  They perished due to lack of change.

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As Mind Tools featured in their article “Coping with Change”, there are two types of coping mechanisms.  There is “control coping”, which is positive and proactive.  You refuse to feel like a victim of change, instead you take charge and do whatever you can to be part of the solution, including managing your feelings.  “Escape coping” is based on avoidance.  You experience thoughts and emotions, or take specific actions, that help you avoid the difficulties of change.  For instance, you might deliberately miss training classes, or show up too late to attend a meeting about the upcoming change.”  It’s OK to experience both types of coping, but the best option is to default to “control coping.”  As I frequently tell my clients, “Don’t we all want control?”


So here are some ways to facilitate change in the workplace:


  • Share the rationale.  Haven’t we all been asking “Why?” since we were four years old?  It is so difficult to buy into change if we don’t know why we are making the change.  So, when the CEO shoves the new software, procedure or consultant down your throat, there is likely to be resistance, unless it is clearly explained.  What are the benefits?  Cost reduction?  Time saved from using the new procedure?  Be able to clearly spell out the new initiative to everyone affected.  Sometimes company leadership can think that everything has been clearly communicated, when it really was just a few managers talking over lunch and the rationale had not been widely disseminated.  Be sure to share the rationale to as wide an audience as possible.


  • Make it personal.  Communicate with all those affected (and it’s likely to be more than you think).  It probably makes sense to talk one-on-one with each person affected.  It’s important to feel out how the initiative will affect each individual on a personal basis.  “Suzie, it seems like this new initiative might affect your work schedule.  What are your thoughts on that?”  “Everyone in purchasing will have to spend at least 2 more hours on month end procedures.  How will that affect you?”  “Who else do you think might be affected by this?”  This can be difficult for managers who prefer “Command and Control” ideology of the 60’s and 70’s.  You may have to actually write a script of questions to get over the feeling of being vulnerable and open to input.


  • Highlight the benefits but don’t mask the obvious obstacles.  As Mike Moore wrote in his article “How to Implement Change in the Workplace Without Sending Your Staff to a Psychiatrist”: “Stress how the proposed change will benefit your employees.  When people begin to perceive a forthcoming change as a definite benefit to them and when they feel a sense of ownership in the process they more eagerly participate in, welcome and adapt to any changes made.  Ownership and participation are essential.”  Everyone wants to know What’s in it for me?  It is important not to oversell the new change, as it can fall flat if it does not fully deliver the intended benefits.


  • Have everyone weigh in, so they buy in.  This is a tenet of Patrick Lencioni in his book, 5 Dysfunctions of the Team.  This is one of the reasons why I suggest talking to affected folks one-on-one.  People who are more introverted might be too shy to bring up some important information.  They also might not want to disagree with their manager, especially in public.  If you ask for help in the implementation, you are more likely to foster an environment for new ideas.  No one knows better about a process or procedure than the folks or customer who actually use it.  It’s better to get too much information than not enough.  Implementation is easier and more effective if all the stakeholders have weighed in.


  • Use their ideas first.  For years, I have counseled managers to use their employee’s idea, if at all practical.  The reason is that they will make sure it works if it is their idea.  As David Rock has espoused, “Giving advice shuts a person’s brain down” unless they have asked for advice.  If someone seeks advice, it’s welcome.  If you ask for ideas on implementation, those that weighed in will make sure their idea works.  And if it doesn’t?  At least you showed them that you respected them enough to use their idea.  Try and use their ideas.


  • Celebrate even small successes.  I’ve seen leaders wait until they attain the profit margin or return on investment before giving out any kudos.  It’s just like getting your 11-month-old to walk or a puppy to be house broken–you need to celebrate the small successes.  We had a 10% increase in sales over last month.  We didn’t have anyone call customer service today for trouble shooting.  We filled all the orders without a single error today.  As David Rock espouses. “Our brains work better in the toward state or positive state.”  If all we do is look at what went wrong, our employees will be less engaged.  Less empowered.  Celebrate success to keep the forward motion.


Resistance to change is all just based on fear of the unknown.  Keeping an open dialogue and an open mind can help everyone row in the same direction.

Hummingbird Wars. 5 Steps to Sharing Resources in Your Organization.

Our hummingbird feeder was empty for a few days…er weeks. Once refilled, my husband and I have noticed this massive war going on over the feeder. And I do mean war: One bird dive bombing another, rapid retreats, eating while staying vigilant for the enemy, lonely patrols, even dogfights with pointed beaks. I have to say that having breakfast at the table while I watch these skirmishes going on outside the window has become quite stressful. What is crazy is that there is PLENTY of nectar in the feeder to go around and three separate perches by which to partake.   There is more than enough to go around, plenty for all. Hummingbird Wars

This reminds me of some organizations that I have worked for in the past. There are loads of resources, including the human kind, but everyone is running around drawing up battle lines. I can remember an executive who suggested we share a few admins. Cross train a few folks across departments so that we could cover illnesses, lunch breaks and vacations more easily. No one liked it. Silence. Everyone wanted to make sure their team stayed with their team and not cross to the “other side”. Let’s have four humans where, if we could cross train and utilize them more efficiently, we could use two.   It’s like that hummingbird guarding the feeder. It’s mine…ALL mine even though he doesn’t need all those resources.

So how do you get folks to share the nectar? Here are some ideas:

1. Benefits. Clearly state the benefits for all. Email it. Have a meeting. Have a round table. Have a family meeting. Get the information out there. There’s more than enough nectar in the feeder and we can all get our sip. If we all wait our turn we will reduce costs, have less turnover and build trust. Explain the rationale so that everyone can understand (I’m not saying they will all get on board immediately) but it’s a little easier to swallow the new “stapler sharing policy” if they understand the potential benefits. Communicate the benefits; for the group as well as the individuals.

2. Sounding Board. Make sure there is a sounding board for dissenting views. This is where it gets uncomfortable. “But hey…Cath…I don’t want to hear dissenting views…I want them all to smile and nod.” Sorry. If you want folks to buy into the new procedure, you are going to have to hear them out. They might have a good point. Or some irrational fear that needs to be addressed. I know those hummingbirds must have some irrational fear. I’m not saying that there are good soldiers out there that will happily (er…grudgingly) comply with the new “stapler sharing policy” but the new plan will have a much better chance of success if you hear them out through a sounding board.

3. Address. Make sure you address the concerns before moving forward.   There is nothing worse than asking the folks at large for some feedback and then not responding. So many organizations have one way communication and it’s all down. Nothing is permitted to bubble up. When I used to work in the tortilla manufacturing business, I used to say that no one knows the issues with packing tortillas better than the ladies (yes, it was 100% female) who pack the tortillas. If you spend all day packing tortillas you have much better ideas on how to fix quality or productivity issues than any engineer. So make sure you address the humans concerns. And, just as with the sounding board make sure you’re not just nodding and listening. If there are good ideas, incorporate them into the plan.

4. Re-engineer. Take the feedback and re-engineer the process, procedure or new policy. Information that bubbles up from the folks with their hands on the tortillas. I remember walking out on the production floor and you would see one line that had a stack of tortillas several feet high. All you had to do was ask the now small crowd of ladies what was wrong. They always knew exactly what was wrong…the temperature on the press was too high, the masa was too moist, the operator (on the other end of the line) was new. I can assure you that calling an engineer in Dallas was not going to fix our growing mountain of tortillas as fast as asking the folks up to their elbows in them. Take the feedback, the ideas, the concerns, the irrational fears and address them in the re-engineering effort.

5. Roll. Roll with it. After re-engineering it, roll it out. Make the decision. Pull the switch. There is nothing worse than saying you are rolling out a new process and then letting it languish; especially if you have received some poor feedback. Obviously, if the new procedure now seems obsolete like say a new “stapler sharing policy” when the folks point out that we are paperless now and there is no need to share staplers. Make sure that you communicate that the department or company has abandoned the plan because “we heard you”. This is what builds trust in an organization. When the bosses communicate, listen and then make a decision based on feedback from the folks with their boots on the ground the culture changes and trust is built. Roll with it or pull the plug….just make sure you communicate it.

I think the biggest issue with companies is one way communication. I know it can be difficult if whoever you report to is the main culprit but if you supervise other folks or lead a team or parent? It all starts with you. Set the example. It will have ripple effects and the trust will grow.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Case for Staying.

Should I stay or should I go?  There are a plenty of reasons to leave a job.  You don’t like your boss. The company is floundering.  You can’t stand the person in the cube next to you.  In fact, your brain is always looking for danger; the fight or flight response.  It’s really easy to make the case that you should move on, because your brain is wired that way.  Let’s look at all the reasons why you should stay. should I stay or should I go

1. The Devil You Know – Any new job is a giant unknown. Even if you are returning to a position you held in the past, it’s still an unknown because you don’t know what has changed.  It’s the devil you know versus the devil you don’t.  Even if the parking is lousy with your current job or the commute is brutal; you know it because you’ve lived it. If your boss is a jerk on Monday mornings or your email crashes every Tuesday, you know it.  Knowledge is power. 

Have you ever seen the new college graduate employee walk into their first day on the job wearing a jacket and tie?  Right, and it’s dress down week.  All the employees are in polos and jeans and the newbie is sticking out like a sore thumb.  Do you really want to be that guy?  I don’t think so. 

2. Benefits. I can hear the folks under 30 groaning.  Why care about benefits?  I’m not sick.   Maybe it’s my 7 plus years in the insurance industry or my 20 plus years in Human Resources but you just never know what tomorrow is going to bring.  The main thing is to make an accounting of your current benefits and what it will cost to replace them in your next position. Sometimes we take if for granted that every company offers the same benefit package. Make sure you know the numbers.  And maybe even be grateful, if your current employer is generous with their benefits.  You should view your benefits as part of your income.  Trust me, without them you’ll be paying out of your pocket.

3. You Know Where the Landmines are. There is personal information that you stubble on over time.  Your boss’s child has cerebral palsy, your co-workers son just came out of the closet, and the customer service rep’s wife is a drug addict.  This is not obvious stuff and it’s not like it should matter in the workplace but it shows up when you least expect it.  My kid’s are Hispanic.  I am not.  It is not obvious from the pictures on my desk.   If someone lumps all Hispanics into being Mexican and derides them,  my skin crawls and my opinion of the offender changes dramatically.  There are social landmines within every company and the longer you’ve been somewhere, the more you know.  There are pluses and minuses with this. 

4. Your Resume Looks Better. This is why it’s a good idea to stick it out.  One more month at your current employer is one more month on your resume.  I know that the statistics from the Society of Human Resource Management say that 61% of resumes have inaccuracies on them but don’t cover up gaps.  Any company that you want to work for is going to do some fact checking.  Be honest.  Don’t jump the ship you are  on until another one comes along.  If your current job is overwhelming, see if you can take a step down, back, get help or work part time; anything to avoid that gap in employment.  If you are being laid off, then start volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, the Boys and Girls Club, the local community college’s literacy program.   The last thing you want to do is look like you are on the couch or watching YouTube all day. 

5. It’s Easier to Add Skills. Get on a new project team.  I had a Plant Manager years ago who asked me to lead a group around the book, “Discipline without Punishment” by Dick Grote.  It was a great idea.  It’s true that it fit the organization for the Human Resource Manager to lead the team but it gave me a perspective from all aspects of the plant and we did a great job implementing the ideas in the book.  If you can get on a new or existing team, raise your hand high.  Step up and do the things that scare you.

6. Achievements are Easier on the Home Turf. This is similar to school sports.  It’s easier to win on the home field.  You know where all the divots in the field are.  The folks in the stands are  rooting for you.  It’s just easier to succeed in the space you know.  It’s also easier to slam the football down in the backfield and dance.   The crowd around you knows you.  They expect you to understand the impact of your accomplishments. 

This also could be a good way to decide that you want to stick it out in your current situation.  Cool your jets so to speak.  Maybe your job isn’t as bad as you thought it was. Maybe you should start taking advantage of the resources around you.  Regardless, it’s food for thought.