The Only Constant is Change

By Peter L DeHaan

As I look back a few years, I see how things have changed. I have changed, my family has changed, technologies have changed, my business has changed, and industries in which I work have changed.

I think that in today’s business environment, a culture of change is essential for every organization. In my younger days, I would recommend change for the sheer fun of it. Now, older and wiser, I only advocate change when there is a compelling, necessary, or justifiable reason to do so. The key reason for this is that for most people, change is difficult. Change takes something familiar and replaces it with something unknown. Each organization has people who are change resistant. And each leader, manager, and supervisor knows exactly who these people are.  With such folk, their level of aversion to change varies from unspoken trepidation to being overtly confrontational. Regardless of the manifestation, we need to be compassionate, realizing that these reactions are merely their way of responding to fear – fear of the unknown.

To establish a change-oriented culture in your organization, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Employees can accept change if: 1) the change is incremental or small, 2) they have a degree of input or control over the change, and 3) the change is clearly understood by all.

The key to this is communication. Address change head on. For every change, each employee wonders how it will affect him or her. Could they lose their job? Might their hours be cut or changed? Will they be asked to work harder than they already are? Will they be made to do something that is unpleasant or distasteful? What will happen if they can’t learn the new skills? These are all worries, worries about the unknown. As with most worries, the majority will never happen. But with a lack of reliable information and top-down assurances, these irrational worries take on a life all their own.  

Successfully orchestrating change requires effective communication. Not once, but ongoing; not to key staff, but to all staff; not by one method, but by several: group meetings, written correspondence, and one-on-one discussions. A true and effective open door policy helps, too. Also, it is critical that a positive attitude is set, at the beginning, from the top of the organization, which never waivers. Celebrate milestones, generously thank staff along the way, and provide reasonable rewards at the end.

Successfully taking these steps will send a strong signal to staff. Even though the change may still concern them, they will be comforted knowing they have accurate information and the assurance that they are safe and will be protected. And for each successful change, the next one becomes easier to bring about.

You will know that you have successfully created a change-friendly organization when your employees – all of them – get bored with the status quo and begin seeking change. They will ask for larger or more challenging accounts, long for the next acquisition, or want to embark on a major equipment upgrade. At this point, the potential of your organization becomes unlimited; the personal growth of your staff, unshackled; and the future, inviting. You don’t know what that future will entail, only that things will change for the better. So, sit back and enjoy the ride, fully confident that the only constant is change.

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