“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
…So said ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. As someone who sees change as an opportunity to grow both professionally and personally, that quote has always struck a chord with me.
However, it’s important to realise that not everyone has the same outlook. For many employees, change can be daunting. Whether your company is transforming to the digital workplace, introducing unfamiliar technology or even altering roles, transformation in the workplace can cause major disruption to the employee experience, impacting everything from productivity to mental health. As such, managing change against these challenges requires an empathetic response.
Here are some ways you can address some of the common questions and concerns around change to put your teams at ease and help them embrace the opportunity.
1. My role in the digital workplace is changing, and I don’t know what to do
All organisations undergo structural change. Dealing with the cut and thrust of modern business demands becoming lean, agile, and flexible. With it comes the introduction of the empowering nature of technology that has or will transform everyone’s role – from caretaker to CEO.
The initial reaction to this is involuntary, and can often be one of resistance. However, don’t try to fight it.
In my experience, your employees must process this in their own way. If they’re upset, allow them to be upset. If they’re optimistic, embrace that optimism. If they’re angry, help them channel the anger into something positive. There’s no specific, codified way employees should act in these situations, but it’s not healthy to suppress all emotions.
After the initial shock of hearing about change, it’s time to support employees in seeing the opportunities. If the change means joining a new team, what new things could your team learn? What new advice can be gained from a new manager? If the change means moving companies, help your people imagine where it could lead and support them through the process.
2. They’ve introduced new technology and I don’t know how to use it
Learning new technology can be tricky. It’s time-consuming and often involves a lot of admin during the set-up process. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, you might hear about a new technology being introduced to replace it.
One major challenge is understanding the different technology suites a new company uses.
When I first began stumbling across this, I used to resist. I started doing work on my home device, so I could carry on using the old software I was familiar with. This was arduous, clunky and, to be honest, a bit childish. A case of “I want to use what I want to use and don’t care what you say”.
However, I’m glad to say I left that stage behind quite quickly. Now, when presented with new technologies, I wholeheartedly embrace them. Learning the different capabilities of each has opened my eyes to new ways to use them and new ways of working that are more suited to the digital workplace.
It’s the same for your employees – using new technologies means gaining new skills. That might be on a grand-scale, like learning how to create engaging presentations using PowerPoint’s built-in AI capabilities or it might just be finding a few fun life-hacks and shortcuts that make work even easier.
To help your employees get to grips with new tech in the digital workplace, start by figuring out how they learn best. Some of your team will be textbook titans who prefer to sit and get all the background reading under their belt before tackling a new project. Others might be on-the-job supremos who learn by interaction and embrace a trial-and-error mentality.
Understanding where they’re most comfortable is important to ensuring success.
3. I need to make changes to my team, but I’m not sure how people will react
“You need to lose headcount.”
Five dreaded words no business leader wants to hear. You’ve spent time recruiting a team to help realise your lofty ambitions, working hard to develop a close-knit culture. Now, you need to put them at risk.
I’ve seen managers react in different ways to this in the past – some go for the blunt “it is what it is” method. Some go decidedly down the other track of “if I pretend it’s not happening it might not happen”. I’ve managed the communications for these changes on several occasions, and the best advice I can give during these times is…
Be empathetic in your delivery. Be proactive in your support. Be confident in your justification. And don’t forget, change affects the whole team, not just the leavers.
There’s a heavy emphasis on getting the correct terminology into organisational change communications. There are legal implications to consider and the wording needs to be accurate. However, one thing that’s under your control is the tone of delivery.
Think about your people. Understand how and why they might react differently. Remember, it won’t be the same for everyone, so tailor your approach.
Next, before announcing these types of changes, consider the support mechanisms you need to put in place to help employees at every level. Offer career coaching and support sessions. It might be that people would rather deal with the change on their own, but it’s better to have these things in place than to have people feel abandoned. Proactive support is critical. It’s where positive change lives or dies. As an employee, there’s nothing quite as demoralising as feeling like you’ve received bad news, then being left to deal with it alone.
When it comes to confidence in your justification. What this means is that, before you move to the digital workplace, it’s important to be certain as to your reasons for doing it. Whenever changes are made, there will inevitably be questions, comparison, and issues. As long as you are sure why you’re changing, and are happy to openly and honestly justify them to employees, people will feel a greater sense of understanding. It might not make them happy about it, but at least they’ll be reassured by the fairness of the situation.
Lastly, and importantly, when it comes to company culture, the impact of organisational change can be felt greatly by those remaining. I’ve seen people feel guilty, wondering why they’ve kept their job when others didn’t; I’ve seen people in tears over losing the friends and connections they’ve made in the workplace.
Don’t assume your people will automatically bounce back. Support them, offer ongoing guidance well after the point of change, and bring them on your journey. Culture doesn’t grow itself; nurturing it is the only way to get through difficult change.
About the author
Adam Renshaw works as a Communications Lead within the UK Services business unit. His role focuses on landing key strategic messaging, sharing best practices, and celebrating business achievements. Adam’s passion for communications stems from his love of all things creative. When it comes to creating videos, storytelling or developing impactful digital designs, he just can’t get enough. Communications gives him the opportunity, quite often with a blank slate, to share his passion with other people.