Most employees don’t like to change. It is always easier to stick with the status quo than to learn something new (especially if you’ve been performing the status quo for many months or years). However, every so often, employees welcome change. Often times, this is the case when the current process or systems are so “inadequate” that it distracts employees from performing their main function. This is especially important when the employee is compensated solely upon their performance – they feel restricted by the current system or processes and feel that any change has to be an improvement.
In this instance, employees are eager to adopt the upcoming change, and executives may feel that change management is a “lay-up,” knowing that resistance will be limited. However, this perception is far from the truth. Even when employees are excited about the upcoming change initiative, it is still important to follow change management best practices to combat some of these common occurrences:
Employees are over-exaggerating the change’s positive impact
In today’s technologically-advanced world, employees often feel that their companies should be installing the type of leading edge technologies that is used by the companies that we are all customers of (e.g., Apple, Amazon, Google). Employees feel that they should have all of their company’s systems readily available on their mobile device and at the touch of a button, that their systems should automatically integrate and update in real time, and that paper should be completely eliminated in their day-to-day operations (it’s more sustainable after all – what company doesn’t want that?!). Unfortunately, changes occur in phases, and most companies are implementing changes that are either minor improvements, or are only a small step to a larger plan, and often times, not matching the expectations of the employees. When an employee’s expectations are higher than the outcome, disappointment sets in, and even though you started with an eager group, now your employees are disenfranchised and resistant.
How to combat this:
Set expectations with your employees by clearly communicating up front about what the new system or process will and will not be able to accomplish. Define what is actually changing, and what is staying the same. Highlight the improvements and benefits, but also share its limitations. Communicate and train employees through “process walk-throughs” or “day in the life” sessions, where they can physically see what will be different. Don’t let the employees’ imaginations wander in the system’s future capabilities – otherwise, employees may become disappointed when they feel the new system does not meet their own expectations.
Employees are outwardly excited, but internally nervous
Regardless of what employees might say in a large group or to their managers, change is scary. Even though an employee is excited about an upcoming change (and I’m not saying they are lying – I’m sure they are excited), they may also be thinking the following: “Even though the current system is terrible, I’ve been using it for the past 6 years, and everyone comes to me for workarounds – what if I’m not as quick to learn this new system and I’m the new ‘rookie’?” These fears can lead to a feeling of self-doubt (e.g., “what will my role be now?”) or abandonment (especially if the company bypasses proper training efforts).
How to combat this:
Clearly communicate the impacts of the new changes on the employees and how their roles and responsibilities will change. Set expectations with them in terms of upcoming training opportunities, anticipated learning curves, and an overall commitment to working with their employees so that they can utilize the new system or process to the best of their abilities.
Employees are overconfident because they’ve “made it work” with such a “broken” system or process for so long
This occurrence is similar to being outwardly excited but internally nervous, but with an opposite employee behavior. They feel that if they are able to operate a “far from intuitive” system, that they will be quick to learn something new (and in theory, more intuitive). However, in reality, learning something new (and becoming proficient at it) takes time. If employees have the (overly-confident) expectations that they will be able to just jump in, complete their assigned tasks with no dip in productivity, they may quickly learn that it is not that easy (especially if they didn’t take their training course serious because they feel the change will be a cakewalk!). This could lead to frustration and resistance of the process or system (no longer an eager employee).
How to combat this:
Once again, set clear expectations with your employees. Do not just share the positive benefits of the change or “how great everything will be.” It is important to share the realities that come with change: disruptions and learning curves. Instead of telling an eager group that this change will be easy, be clear in your expectations (e.g., timeline) of how long it will take them to adjust.
Don’t skip change management
While most executives (and I) would agree that they would rather implement a system or process change to a group of eager employees than to a resistant group, change management (and setting expectations) is always an integral piece that must be top of mind in order to keep their employees motivated and excited about the change.