Encouraging Progress with Workplace Change
A dear friend of mine was recently was part of an organizational restructure that involved painful redundancies, changed responsibilities, and completely different ways of working.
As you can imagine, the scale of the changes were quite significant. But having survived the redundancies, she decided to make the best of it.
However, she has said to me that her colleagues’ progress in implementing change has not been appreciated. Management instead have focused on what people are doing wrong.
Although I know that only one-third of people say they receive sufficient recognition for their work, the lack of recognition can be especially problematic if you want people to embrace change.
There is a certain amount of conscious effort and discomfort involved in change. So it is important to reinforce progress as soon as it occurs, especially in the early stages.
Here are some strategies you can use to help the momentum for change to grow.
- Make initial changes easy: It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of a significant change facing your workplace. But change is often easier if you break it down into small steps that people can easily make – perhaps a meeting to be briefed about the changes, scheduling a training session, or a decision being made about the initial steps.
Remember that if people have been dealing with a lot of change, this takes energy and self-control of which people have a limited supply. In this case, making change easy becomes even more important.
Where possible, allow individuals to choose what they will do and a timeframe for those actions. Alternatively, there may be a shared understanding of a few key behaviours that will be practised by everyone in the team.
Otherwise, communicate very clear expectations about the early actions required and a timeframe for these. Keeping a written record of what is agreed can be helpful in keeping people on track and promoting accountability.
- Reinforce progress as it occurs. Even small steps need to be recognised. The general rule is that the more progress can be reinforced, the greater the momentum for change. Although we tend to think of verbal praise from team leaders as reinforcement, there are very different motivators we can use. For example, there are …
Internal motivators: It can be helpful for change leaders to be alert to the power that comes from connecting the desired behaviours with an individual’s or team’s satisfaction, values and identity. For example, a change leader might comment on the satisfaction that comes with learning new skills, embracing a change well, and feeling proud about the result.
A change leader might also comment about an individual who has a track record as an achiever, who finds a way to do things, even when they are hard. Or they might give their team a positive identity if there is not one there already – ‘We will get through this together’, ‘We all want the best outcomes for clients, so we need to pull in the same direction’ or ‘We are the ‘can do’ team.
Social motivators: Change leaders take advantage of this motivator when there is consensus between team members about the steps to be taken, when reviews of progress are held at team meetings (when there is accountability to peers), when progress is acknowledged and celebrated by other team members, when there is private discussion with individuals about the impact of their performance on others, or how their performance compares.
Nobody likes to think they are underperforming relative to their colleagues. So a weekly summary of targets achieved by individual team members, given to all team members, can be quite motivating for some to lift their performance. We all want to fit in and be approved by our peers. If group norms can be established, behaviour is often contagious.
External motivators: Here change leaders and team members are reinforcing key behaviours, but in ways that are meaningful to the individual concerned. For example, some people appreciate genuine thanks for acknowledgment of their effort. Others value being trusted and given autonomy to implement the changes. Some feel valued when they are put in control of part of the process. Others value notes of thanks or their manager giving them one-on-one time.
Remember that even small steps deserve recognition. So take every opportunity to reinforce progress.
- Don’t reward the wrong behaviours: If we are not careful, we can inadvertently reward the wrong behaviours by allowing people who are consistently negative to dominate team meetings. Or we give people what they want whenever they throw a tantrum, even when what we are wanting is reasonable. Instead, we need to be clear about the behaviour we need to see, be firm when it is necessary to do so, and have a backup plan for escalated behaviour.
There are times to be flexible, of course. But if we are dealing with someone who has a track record of being unreasonable, we may be better to stick to our position with the support of our supervisor or do a trade: ‘If I do … will you do …?’ and then keep a written record to hold them accountable.
- Prepare for challenges: Inevitably, there are challenges in implementing change. So, expectations need to be set at the right level. Team members need to appreciate the challenges with change are not failures.
Leaders are better to reframe challenges as to be expected, misunderstandings, feedback that allows the changes to be fine-tuned, or opportunities to learn and grow.
How are you going with the above? And what will you do to encourage your colleagues who are dealing with major change at work?