Workplace changes

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Workplace changes
I’m part of a team created to introduce new procedures. I find people resistant. How do I get them to take on new ideas?

By Elizabeth Murphy
First published in Chatelaine’s June 1995 issue.
©Elizabeth Murphy

Change tends to stir up people’s fears about their security and comfort–fears you’ll need to deal with. Here are some approaches that successful change agents have used:

Open up communication–both sending and receiving
Plan to make short presentations to groups in the department to let them know what is happening. Be willing to answer questions. Provide a variety of ways for employees to tell you their concerns: some people like anonymous questionnaires, while others prefer group discussions. A one-on-one meeting may be the best way to deal with a colleague who has a chip on her shoulder.

Involve those people affected by the change
By asking for their ideas, you’ll give colleagues a sense of control. If your job is to streamline procedures, you could ask staff members to identify tasks that are duplicated or not useful. One secretary who was asked to update the software in her department asked fellow secretaries what they saw as deficiencies in their current packages. Her final choice was seen as an answer to their concerns.

Be willing to sell the change
A carefully planned pitch will help persuade your colleagues that change is necessary. It’s crucial to take their point of view: instead of saying the new order form will be easier for customers, emphasize the advantage to employees–fewer customer questions. And it’s important to be realistic, acknowledging the negatives and trying to turn them into positives. For example, at a meeting called to introduce some new equipment purchases, one employee complained: “I don’t have time to learn one more new thing.” The manager responded: “You will need training, but having the skills to operate state-of-the-art equipment is good for your long-term security.”

Create an early success
A pilot project can prove to doubters that the change will work. I sat in on a meeting where a pilot production team was reporting to other employees on its two-month experience. One team member admitted that he had initially been skeptical but was now committed to the team approach. You could see in their faces that the other employees were being won over by the recommendation from one of their own.

Be flexible
As the change is introduced, you may have to negotiate with the actual users. One task force devised what they thought was an improved performance-review form. Their colleagues didn’t think much of it. Rather than retreating to the expert stance (“Look at the time we put into this”), the task force asked for suggestions and altered the form.

Make change fun
Create a semisocial event the day the new computer system is launched. Periodically rent a videotape for lunchtime viewing that shows people doing what you’re trying to do (many modern business videos are funny as well as informative).

Don’t try to do it all yourself
Encourage a senior executive to speak at one of your meetings to reassure people about their jobs. Bring the group’s natural leaders on board; once they’re convinced, others will follow.

Elizabeth Murphy is a management training consultant.