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3 tips on supporting people through change

Change management can be challenging at the best of times.  Smother it with a pandemic and you have hell written all over it.

Over the years, I have witnessed many MANY changes done, well badly….you will have too.  Change is everywhere.  In fact, in the last week alone, these popped up:

  • NHS were not consulted over face masks being mandatory in hospitals
  • Complete and utter melt down in aviation over the change to mandatory quarantine for arrivals
  • Ryanair defies the government recommendations to check in luggage and tells staff to encourage passengers to use carryon luggage instead
  • BA’s treatment of staff during the Covid-19 crisis is considered a “national disgrace”

Okay, what we read in the news is open to interpretation….but these are all examples of changes, that have not gone the way they probably hoped.  Just reading these articles you can see there was:

  • No communication or engagement with those affected by the change
  • A distinct lack of clarity on the risks, concerns and implications of the change
  • Rebellion in the ranks because there probably isn’t a lot of listening going on
  • Poor treatment of those involved in the change

Good change management processes are full of practical ways of navigating from idea conception right through to implementation and post change reviews.  But many change management models fail to address the emotional aspects that underpin how successful a change is.

The impact of Covid on change

Covid-19 has shown how difficult it is to adapt to a completely new way of doing things. It is a change of unprecedented scale, but it also shows ALL OF US how change makes us uncomfortable.  We don’t like having to navigate something new, we crave normality and returning back to “how it was before”, we want it to make sense of it and we long for reassurance.  All of this is peppered with a bucketful of anxiety and stress.  And all that is experienced before we even considerer any other business changes.

During this pandemic, the emotional aspects we feel going through change go into cataclysmic overdrive!

As a business, you will be making your own changes right now and will probably make many more changes regularly for the foreseeable future:

  • Pivoting in product or service offering
  • Introducing new technology to provide greater access for customers
  • Flexibility in working hours
  • Office social distancing strategies
  • Remote management and leadership

So, alongside your practical processes for manging change, here are 3 fundamental components of change that get to the heart of making the change as easy, as seamless and as stress free as possible.

1) Never underestimate the power of engagement

Whether you are at the start, the middle or the end, including your employees in the conversation is absolutely critical.  When you are asked for your help, or your opinion, what happens? You feel needed.  You feel wanted.  You feel like you matter!

It directly plays into a human desire to feel included.  As a result, you become emotionally invested, will get behind the change and be more likely to not only support it but also endorse it.

If we look at the NHS facemasks change, there was no engagement or consultation.  They might have actually agreed with it if they felt part of the conversation, but they weren’t.  It came as a complete shock.  There was a lack of clarity on the logic, people felt caught off guard and no one EVER wants to be on the backfoot!

Engaging people isn’t asking for permission to make changes, it is about bringing people along with you.

2) Don’t pay lip service to it

We might recognise that engaging people is important, but it is NOT just a tick box exercise on the change management checklist.  Engaging staff is important, listening to them is crucial. 

They will not only air risks and concerns; they will also help you shape your entire change process.  This will ultimately make the end result far more effective and positive for everyone.

Listen to what your employees have to say and then develop a strategy with them to respond to those risks outlined.  If they don’t like it, why, what about it, what can be done to improve how it is interpreted, implemented, supported and so on.

Creating the space to listen connects directly with anxious feelings and stressful emotions which will help to prevent poor mental health.

Trust me, the time you invest now, will save you a whole heap of pain later!

3) It is time to reassure and re-enforce

Change creates feelings of uncertainty so we try to clutch onto things that provides us with reassurance, that makes us feel okay, that can help budge some of those uncomfortable feelings.  Reassurance is a fundamental human need.  We want to feel good about ourselves, we want to know what we are doing is right.  And if those feelings are re-enforced, those feel good feelings, those positive vibes and that energy multiplies.

So, we want to really provide tangible reassurance on an individual AND on a team level.  We saw in the very early stages of this pandemic; efforts went into building new hospitals to provide public and staff reassurance.  There was a strategy firmly centred on protecting the NHS as well as enabling priority access to NHS employees to reassure them that they could do what they need to do to work.  Then we wacked a great big Thursday clap every week, showing how much we appreciate it, their efforts, their sacrifices, and we did it every week to re-enforce it.

Okay it is a change on a huge level and we can politically argue the angle, but the core principles are there!

Change is happening all the time.  Business responds to how we change as humans. Our buying habits change, the economy changes, our way of living changes, our likes and dislikes change. But businesses also rely on changing, developing and evolving to remain competitive in the market, to diversify, to grow and in these circumstances? To survive.

Practical change management principles and processes are important.  Supporting people through it, is critical to its success.

Need some guidance with your change management activities? Get in touch at [email protected]

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