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Stay Connected During Change

Staying Engaged During Corporate Change (Part 2)

Change is practically a given in today’s competitive work environment. But how is an individual employee supposed to thrive in an environment of constant uncertainty? To successfully navigate this near-constant change, research suggests that it’s critical to stay engaged.

In the first post of this 3-part series (click here if you missed it), I shared strategies from my book The Successful Struggle, that help you stay engaged and in tune with the purpose of corporate change.

In addition to connecting with the reasons behind the change, there are other things you can connect with that make corporate evolution easier to swallow. One of the most helpful? People. Connecting with colleagues helps us feel better emotionally when we’re facing change, and increases the likelihood that the outcome of the change will be successful.

In a study of employees in large-sized companies facing major changes, those who reported the highest levels of satisfaction after a change were also the most engaged employees. This makes sense on several levels. Actively engaged employees are more likely to be participating in the change or at minimum feel as if their voice is being heard. Engaged employees also reap the benefits of having relationships with colleagues they can lean on when transitioning becomes stressful or confusing.

In The Successful Struggle, I tell the story of David, whose role at work was changing because of a new strategic direction. David was off-balance because of the change, and worried he couldn’t deliver on his new goals. Because he didn’t want to be perceived as negative about the alteration to his role, he was reluctant to speak up in meetings. Withholding his thoughts in this setting became so innate to David that he pulled away from his colleagues during the work day, too.

David convinced himself that disconnecting from his colleagues was natural. He told himself that he was just putting his head down and focusing. It made sense to him that he would hunker down in his office, not emerging until he had a successful action plan completed. But pulling away from his colleagues was only making David more isolated. His ideas had been created in a vacuum, they lacked the fine-tuning they usually received when David shared his ideas with the group. As a result, David was not only miserable, but also less successful.

Employees who stay connected during change – to their peers, their managers, and even their personal social circle – navigate change in a much healthier way than those who pull away from others. Studies show that maintaining personal connections is a predictor of a well-handled change.

If you feel yourself pulling away from colleagues and friends during change, that’s a red flag. To connect with the people around you, try these three things:

  1. Speak Up – It can be intimidating to verbalize your concerns about change, because we’re often taught to wait and evaluate a situation before we speak. But if we don’t speak up and ask questions, we run the risk of not getting the information we need so that we CAN effectively evaluate a situation. What a Catch-22! But don’t let it silence you. Ask clarifying questions as needed, just try to do so in a constructive way. By asking questions with a positive slant, you are demonstrating that you are engaged as well as exhibiting a positive attitude about the change.
  2. Build a Work Support Network – If you’ve avoided having a work support network, change can be a great catalyst for creating one. Identify a mentor and at least one or two peers you can lean on for support. Be sure that your conversation topics don’t center on “venting,” which is an unhealthy dialogue style that keeps you feeling agitated and ignores problem-solving.
  3. Lean on Your Personal Support Network – You may not feel like talking about work problems outside of work. But having the support of your friends outside of work has been shown to be helpful. Even if you only spend a few minutes catching them up on the issue, you’ll feel like you have the moral support that will keep you going the rest of the work week; then you can lay those issues aside and go out and have a fun evening.

It’s natural to want to crawl into your cubicle and disconnect from the world when you’re facing the uncertainty of change, but you’ll be significantly more successful if you make it a priority to stay connected to your workplace and the people in it. When you stay engaged, ask questions, and lean on your support network, you’ll be surprised – and relieved! – to find how much easier it is to handle change.

Stay tuned for the next installment of my three-part series. And for those of you that need to catch up, you can find the first installment of my blog series here.

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About the Author
Courtney Clark speaks to organizations who want to adapt faster and achieve more by building a culture of Accelerated Resilience. She is the author of two books “The Giving Prescription,” and “The Successful Struggle,” a three-time cancer survivor, brain aneurysm survivor, keynote speaker, and founder of a nonprofit. www.CourtneyClark.com

 

Effectively Navigate Organizational Change

Understanding Change and Its Impact on Engagement

Change is a funny thing, isn’t it? We frequently resist it, yet progress is impossible without it. In fact, we can’t really move through life without it. The desired approach for most of us is to experience change in small, bite-size chunks. Otherwise, it can wreak havoc on us when there’s too much at once and we’re not prepared for it.

The same goes for organizational change. Arguably though, organizations need to be in a continual state of change in order to move forward. Whether we call it “transformation,” “growth,” or just the natural evolution of the business – companies must continue to evolve in order to stay competitive and relevant, to employees and customers alike. In other words, organizations cannot afford to stay static for any length of time in today’s environment.

The ongoing need for change presents a tricky situation when it comes to employee engagement. While leading organizational change, you must be able to rally the troops’ ongoing support and understanding. Too much top down change at once can result in disengaged employees, which equates to a loss in productivity. Employees begin to feel as though they don’t have a voice or a sense of control. The weight of the loss of familiarity and certainty can bear down on employees until they start to fatigue, and slowly but surely, begin to check out. They might still perform their jobs, but they certainly won’t be putting forth their discretionary time and effort towards realizing the shared vision of the organization.

What may surprise you is this behavior should be considered normal. Our brains are wired to resist change. The oldest part of our brain – the reptilian brain – auto-responds to change with the fight or flight response. It takes practice to bypass that part of our brain and access the rational brain where we can use logic to overcome our innate, initial reaction.

As HR and OD professionals and people leaders, how can we help employees with that process? How can we best position ourselves to lead and at the same time guide employees to think more rationally about change? After all, employee resistance is one of the leading causes for the failure of change initiatives (Bovey & Hede, 2001b; Waldersee & Griffiths, 1996). According to Cynthia Wittig, “Such findings indicate that change agents focusing on employee reactions—including resistance and acceptance—during organizational change is of utmost importance to the success of the initiative.”

How do we help eliminate the resistance? Where should your change-agent-leaders focus their efforts?

1) Address the emotions first by answering the hard questions upfront, including addressing, why?

We are persuaded by reason, but we are moved by emotion.  Acknowledge what employees may be feeling. You don’t necessarily have to answer for it, but you can acknowledge it and lead from the front by demonstrating authenticity and optimism in response. Acknowledging and naming the feelings helps create distance between a person and a situation. It creates a moment of objectivity. Instead of, “I am afraid,” they can at last get to, “I feel afraid about what Mr. Jones shared during town hall and how it might affect my department.” It also helps those of us who may have a hard time defining how we’re feeling, to make sense of why our hearts start racing, or we get sweaty palms, or feel unsettled in response to certain news.  If you have a tough change coming up – call it what it is and help employees understand why the organization needs to head in that particular direction. Our brains don’t like incomplete stories and in the absence of information, we can come to all sorts of crazy conclusions. These concocted conclusions can spin FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) out of control into a danger tornado that is likely to pick up your change initiative and spit it out in the Land of Oz.

2) Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Oh, did I mention? Communicate.

The amount and quality of information that is communicated to employees can influence how those employees will react (Wanberg & Banas, 2000). Running today’s ever-evolving organizations takes a lot of heavy lifting. It requires people-leaders and executives to be clear on the changes that are occurring and why those changes are taking place. AND it requires intentional multi-touch communications about said changes with all employees. Cynthia Witting shares, “There are several communication processes that impact employees’ reactions, including frequency, mode, content, and flow of communication. Gray and Laidlaw (2002) argued that the more embedded these processes are within management, the more effective the outcomes are because they enhance the quality of working relationships, harmony, and trust.” Sending out 1-2 emails about a change really isn’t enough. Ideally, there is a real-time, always-on, cross-functional, organization-wide conversation about these topics so that everyone can weigh-in equally and ask questions with transparency and without fear. This method should also provide communication scalability. In the absence of such a system, there needs to be on-going fireside chats or other means for employees to submit questions and expect real, authentic answers.

3) Employee participation in decision making.

According to an Aon Hewitt research study, the number one driver of employee engagement during times of change is the ability to be involved in decision making.  However, you might be thinking – if I ask them what they want or what their thoughts are, am I opening a proverbial can of worms? The reality is yes, initially it will require more work, but the outcomes of increased success and higher engagement are well worth the trouble. In fact, there’s a whole body of research available with a documented approach to making wide-spread change while engaging the whole team. It’s called Appreciative Inquiry. As opposed to the typical deficit-based mindset where everything is a problem to solve, the approach focuses on inquiries into the organization based upon what is working and what we want to do more of so that the team naturally moves in that direction. When folks have a voice – they feel heard and acknowledged. This is fundamental to creating and maintaining highly engaged employees. Particularly, in times of change.

Perhaps Buckminster Fuller said it best. “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”.

How has your organization effectively navigated change? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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About the Author
Leigh BurgerLeigh joined the Achievers Professional Services team in June 2014 She serves as a trusted advisor to HR executives, professionals and business partners for the Achievers Fortune 500 global brands in rolling out their Employee Engagement platform. She holds a Masters, Positive Organizational Development & Change from Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University as well as several relevant certifications. You can check out her full profile here.

 

 

Connect to the purpose of change

Staying Engaged During Corporate Change (Part 1)

When change sweeps through an organization, it often causes confusion, frustration, and fear. Even when dressed up with fancy words like “transformation” and “innovation,” employees know the end result is one thing: change.

One reason corporate change is uncomfortable is that it requires disconnecting. All change is, in disregard, disconnecting. Change forces us to let go of our old ways of being and our old measures of success.

To successfully navigate a changing workplace, studies show you must stay engaged. In my book The Successful Struggle, I examine several workplace studies on corporate transformation. The studies suggest that remaining engaged during corporate transformation is a key indicator of employee success and happiness.

In this 3-part blog series, I’ll share strategies for staying engaged in your changing workplace, so you can come out on top at the end of the transformation. All of these strategies involve connecting with something, to help fight the disconnection brought on by change.

The first strategy is to connect with the purpose of the change. Human beings are meaning-making machines: we are always asking “why?” We want to know why the change is happening, why it’s important, what it means for our future, and what the outcome might mean for us.

When change occurs in the workplace, however, getting the answers to those questions isn’t always easy. In one of my jobs as a director at a nonprofit organization, we had lost some employees and were shifting around responsibilities. Some departments were taking on new roles, and I was given control of a new income stream. No one told me if the new responsibilities were permanent or temporary, or even trained me on how to accomplish them. I didn’t know what was expected of me, or even why the tasks had shifted in the first place. This left me feeling disconnected from my purpose and challenged my ability to give my new duties proper meaning.

Leaders sometimes discuss the “why” of change around the management table, yet by the time they roll out the change to everyone else, they’ve moved on to talking about “when” and “how.” But for those of us just hearing about the change for the first time, we need to hear the “why” or we’ll never get on board. We won’t understand the purpose of the change, or what the payoff might be.

If you’re stuck in a corporate change and don’t understand the purpose behind the change, you’re bound to feel disconnected. To connect to the purpose of change, try these three things:

  1. Start a Dialogue about the Future. At a staff meeting, ask the leadership team about what the change means. To keep things positive and productive, frame your questions around the company’s future and how the change impacts the future outlook. Asking smart questions and staying positively engaged in the change will make you shine in your manager’s eyes.
  2. List your Opportunities. This change likely brings with it the possibility of growth for you, personally, and not just growth for your company. As you begin to understand where the company is headed in the future, write down ways the change can open up new doors for you.
  3. Make Change Less Personal. Because change is disconnecting, it can sometimes feel like it’s a personal affront to us. But letting the voice in your head tell you that change is personal keeps you from adapting gracefully. Change is bigger than you, so don’t let your mind dwell on how much you’re personally suffering.

Using these three strategies helps you understand the potential payoff of the change, and get behind it. When you reframe change as a challenge with a purpose, you’ll have a much easier time coming out on top!

Check out the second piece of my three-part series on staying engaged during corporate change here.

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About the Author
Courtney Clark speaks to organizations who want to adapt faster and achieve more by building a culture of Accelerated Resilience. She is the author of two books “The Giving Prescription,” and “The Successful Struggle,” a three-time cancer survivor, brain aneurysm survivor, keynote speaker, and founder of a nonprofit. www.CourtneyLClark.com