6 min read

Teaching Your Teams to Embrace Change

Every organization faces issues when it comes time for a change. For many years, the method for change has entailed “do this, or your job will be jeopardy” to get people on board with any new idea. If you hammer down with an iron fist, this method does work but it’s far from ideal.

New processes or shifts in business procedures always stir some kind of emotion – unfortunately, these feelings are anything but positive. Research has shown that the science behind organizational change reveals patterns that leaders need to understand to successfully transition into new, more profitable manners of operation.

Getting teams to embrace change is essential to growth, but it’s often one of the most taxing challenges faced by leaders in an organization. Typically, there’s an underlying element of fear – new processes can make some feel their workload will increase while others see change as a threat to their role. My thoughts are that in order to get everyone comfortable with change, the underlying feeling of discomfort needs to be confronted.

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The nature of change in a business

At some point in your life, you’ve learned to do something and likely became quite good at it. You develop a system or learn a method from a mentor then adapt your process between testing different tweaks to your process.

When someone comes along and decides to change things after you’ve refined your process, it can feel frustrating, to say the least. In these times, it’s critical that leaders step up their game when it comes time to implement new changes.

Some changes will feel minimal for some while for others they can be immense. Too, individual resilience has a lot to do with how well a person will handle change. Some will handle large shifts and alterations to their duties with grace while others may seem to fall apart over the slightest alterations.

There’s no set pattern for how change plays out, but it’s often greeted with contempt, especially if it’s not a change derived by the workforce. This means organizations must be vigilant about working through problems that will inevitably occur, instead of forcing new ideas and expecting everyone to blindly jump on board.

Bring change into the conversation

The most important tool for change is communication – it’s the backbone for all relationships. Without it, there is a high probability of failure for change endeavors, with some sources reporting 70% and others figuring it is much higher.

The reason we may not communicate is multifaceted. In some cases, it comes down to the fact that communication or the idea of change is not adapted into company culture.

Discussions around change and the fostering of agility for team members is critical, especially for businesses that require constant pivoting from agile individuals on any given day. In fact, this is a huge element at my business as we need different teams to work together to make accommodations for the events of each day. Despite our best planning efforts, there’s always some unseen obstacle that needs negotiating – I’m fortunate that I have talented, adaptable people who handle the unknown remarkably well!

With that said, successful change is a bit different for organizations of different sizes. Here, I’d like to provide a cursory look at the challenges faced by both small and large organizations.

Change in an SMB

Small and some mid-sized businesses have a great benefit where everyone knows each other. While this is ideal for a cozy working environment, unwanted change can be met with harsh resistance by the entire workforce in some cases.

One of the biggest problems roots in the fact that it’s not uncommon for individuals to wear multiple hats. If people are often working on cross-function teams and taking on extra responsibilities, changes will feel exceptionally disruptive.

The first step in the proper execution of change is to discuss where everyone is at – this includes what they’re working on, how they’re feeling, their thoughts about their current projects, and how they imagine changes will help or hinder performance. For non-enterprises, it’s not uncommon to learn that some individuals are taking on responsibilities all over the board. In other cases, some that have a seemingly small amount on their plate might be struggling.

In either case, these people can feel highly threatened by certain changes. Introducing new processes or alterations should be discussed, rather than forced on an individual or team. Sometimes, change strategies fail to take into account the complexity of small team dynamics. Before saying, “This is how we’re going to be doing things, moving forward,” get your team’s input then make alterations as needed.

Changes in the enterprise

Large establishments that span multiple locations and employ a substantial number of people often struggle with change initiatives. Especially when there is a feeling of disconnect between management and team members, the introduction of anything new of different – even if it’s projected to be immensely beneficial! – could be met with contempt.

Team leaders in different departments need to take a step back and think about how to “sell” change while also minding reservations held by team members. Large shifts – whether it’s using a new system, shift in sales directive to a new product or service, process for working a lead through a sales funnel, restructuring, etc. – will take time to see an effect.

During this time, there will be frustrations that occur. As such, it’s important to work with teams while monitoring change outcomes as well as listen to employee feedback.

Ideally, large businesses have worked on developing true leaders that can champion new ideas, but also dial back and rework strategy when something simply isn’t working, despite a team’s best efforts. Ultimately, empathy is what wins these battles. Listen and understand before responding, then use what you’ve learned to adjust team strategy.

One last thought on change

Experts agree that you need to take time for yourself. Create a proper work/life balance. Do things for you. Stay on task for your values.

In times of change, make sure everyone isn’t pushing themselves too hard or you may wind up with a failure on your hands. Put your best effort into change and communicate expectations, but learn to recognize when something isn’t working. Assess the problem, ask other leaders for their input, and make adjustments accordingly.