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Four tips to initiate change in the workplace

Posted on September 1, 2021

 

One of the biggest barriers many businesses have to overcome is the argument that “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. When this retort comes out as soon as someone suggests a change to processes or strategy, it’s an indication of a natural discomfort with the idea of doing something differently.

The author John Fisher produced an illustrated version of his Process of Transition graph in 2012, taking Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ “five stages of grief” as its inspiration. Fisher expands this to eight stages and maps out a vaguely S-shaped graph that shows the emotional journey people tend to go through when presented with change.

While there is some truth in the old maxim of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”, innovative companies are always looking for new ways to develop and improve the way they work. While this is a positive outlook, leaders and managers have to make sure they are implementing change in the right way, with respect for the emotional response of the people it affects most. Here are four pieces of advice on implementing change effectively:

1. Prepare for the shock

Fisher’s graph tells us that the initial reaction to change is likely to be anxiety, or even shock. If something has been done the same way for a long time, staff will inevitably get into a comfort zone with it and will respond to the idea of change with apprehension. This can even be the case if people don’t particularly like the status quo and know it needs to change – “it’s better the devil you know”, as Kylie Minogue once preached to us!

This means early communication of change can be valuable, so perhaps it could be hinted at that a process is in line for a rethink so that it doesn’t come out of the blue. Allowing for a transitional period and extending the lead time of a change can also help mitigate the shock factor, rather than putting change into action overnight.

2. Involve your staff

Another way to help flatten Fisher’s curve is to ensure the change is working towards a shared goal among staff and is not simply dictated to them. Some analysts have observed seven types of leadership, and note that one big problem with “autocratic leadership” is that it can be extremely difficult to work a way out of when it goes wrong.

Those effecting changes in the workplace should be prepared to handle resistance to the changes, and should try to put themselves in the position of those it has consequences on. What reassurances would you want to hear if you were in their position? Present the change in a way that highlights its positive aspects rather than the negative consequences of standing still, and welcome their input.

If everyone buys into the change, it can only help lessen the “trough” of the emotional journey, which is the stage of depression.

3. Keep on the ball after the change has been implemented

Fisher hints that the process of change can both begin and end with complacency, which means it has the potential to become a cycle, rather than a journey. If staff become so comfortable with a change that they start going through the motions and not thinking about why they are doing it, you could be back where you started and find yourself with inefficient processes and unmotivated staff.

Be sure to monitor and fine-tune the process even after implementation, and remember that “this is the way we do it now” can be just as dangerous as “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.

4. Accept that change doesn’t always work

Fisher’s graph depicts the ideal resolution of anxiety and depression into acceptance and implementation, but it also identifies that emotions like denial, hostility and disillusionment can cause the curve to go off at a tangent.

Perhaps the most important attitude to have when implementing change is to accept that it may not go as planned. If it isn’t working out, it’s better to discard the change and put it down to a learning experience than to be so stubborn as to force it through regardless.

John Murray
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