Lack of awareness during change continues to be a top contributor to employee resistance.
During a recent trip to my pharmacist, I experienced a change that came out of nowhere and like most people, I resisted the change. My unwillingness to change almost resulted in leaving $300 a year on the table. Why? Because I was not made aware that a change was happening and why it was being made.
For 15 years I have taken a medication to treat a condition that I have. The medication I take has worked very well for me. Like clockwork, I take the medication twice daily, routinely have my lab work performed, pick up my refill monthly and see my physician annually. This process is as much a part of me as any other habit/routine that I have. I have come to know what to expect and how to handle all of this exceptionally well.
You can imagine my surprise when I found out, without any warning from my physician or insurance provider, that a different medication was being prescribed. The pharmacy technician that I spoke with that day did not have any information on the change. I declined the medication, requested that my original prescription be refilled, left the pharmacy frustrated and returned home to seek information. After several phone calls and emails, I eventually learned that the medication I had been on was now being offered in a generic form. My doctor shared that the only tangible change I would notice is the price. The generic medication would work exactly like the original.
As I reflected on this experience, one point came through loud and clear: this change would have gone much more smoothly if my pharmacist and I had been made aware ahead of time that a switch to a generic drug was being made. Instead, the lack of awareness caused me to resist the change, resulting in unnecessary time and effort, by all parties involved, to resolve the confusion.
The Workplace is No Different
The lack of awareness during change continues to be a top contributor to employee resistance. Benchmarking and best practices studies have shown that when employees resist changing it is more likely rooted in the lack of awareness than anything else. When resistance exists, employees are less likely to accept the new ways of working, which slows down improvements and delays the expected benefits. Unfortunately, many organizations overlook the importance of awareness or do not understand its full meaning.
In the context of a change, awareness explains both what the change is and why the change is required. Awareness answers the basic questions we all have when change is introduced. What is the change? What factors led to it? Why is the change required? What could happen if the change does not take place? What are the expected outcomes of the change? Who will be impacted?
It is important to note that awareness is not agreement with or knowledge of how to change. Choosing to engage in change and learning how to change are subsequent phases once awareness is attained. Awareness is achieved once employees can explain in their own words the nature of the change, why it is required and the risks of not changing.
A Common Mistake
The tendency for many organizations is to follow traditional project management methodologies of relying on generalized announcements and pre-implementation training activities as the sole change catalysts. This approach may work for those receptive to the change, but that group is typically a small percentage of the organization. For the majority of employees, providing only an announcement and training will not suffice. Yes, employees will attend training because they are required to, but the training will have little impact. Many people will tune out the technical information as they ponder the nature of the change, why it is happening, and how it will impact them
I recall this happening in at least three specific projects. All three organizations were nearing the point of implementation and were conducting pre-implementation training. According to the project plan they were on schedule. However, they were not on track in regards to employee readiness. Employees were informed that a change was coming but lacked the understanding of why the selected changes were necessary. They only had half the information and began to fill in the “why” with their own assumptions. And for the most part, those assumptions were skewed and led to negative outcomes in their mind.
The training sessions quickly became stop-gap measures to address the lack of awareness instead of teaching employees how to change. Sponsors, managers, and supervisors were called in to answer the attendees’ questions. Training sessions had to be rescheduled and the go-live date for implementation pushed out. In all three examples, the delay cost the company money.
At the earliest signs that a change is going to happen, employees begin to seek information. They will seek it from their supervisor, peers, at the water cooler, even the company intranet. The desire for information is exceptionally strong when change is announced. For many of us, we will not be at ease until this void is filled. An awareness campaign should be deployed to overcome rumors, assumptions, and opinions filling this void. The campaign should clearly, concisely and credibly provide employees with information on the change.
The following is a list of recommendations for creating awareness:
- Align communications.
- Leverage sponsors to communicate the business aspects of the change.
- Engage managers and supervisors to communicate departmentally and personal aspects of the change.
- Communicate early and often.
- Avoid surprises.
- Minimize rumors and misinformation.
- Apply the 3x 6x rule of communication.
- Provide information from three different credible sources.
- Communicate similar messages at least six times.
- Connecting is key.
- Match sender with audience.
- Speak the language of the audience.
- Cascade information.
- Remember managers and other leaders are employees too.
- Allow time to internalize information before progressing to the next level.
- Include data, facts, and examples.
- Objective information overrides opinion.
- Be specific; avoid the abstract.
- Communicate verbally first.
- Allow for comments and questions.
- Emails, posters, newsletters, etc., should complement.
- Don’t take it for granted.
- Conduct audits and message testing to ensure employees know the nature of the change and understand the reasons behind it.
Effective awareness campaigns require proactive and intentional communication. It takes time and effort. When handled effectively, employee receptiveness increases and change failure decreases.
Improving the Odds
If you are at the onset of a change initiative, ensure that your plans include activities to create awareness early on and throughout the life cycle of the project. In doing so, the change will be better positioned to stay on schedule, on budget and to achieve the full return on investment.
If your project is well underway and experiencing struggles with employee resistance check to see if the resistance is rooted in a lack of awareness. If found to be true, initiate an awareness campaign to lower resistance and minimize the amount of money being left on the table.
Change initiatives face enough obstacles and challenges along the way that can result in organizations missing out on benefit realization. Don’t let the lack of awareness be one of those reasons.
As senior consultant for Life Cycle Engineering, Jeff Nevenhoven develops solutions that align organizational systems, structures, controls and leadership styles with a company’s business vision and performance objectives. Jeff’s experience enables him to work effectively with employees throughout an organization to implement solutions that remove functional barriers and prepare and lead people through sustaining change. You can reach Jeff at jnevenhoven@LCE.com.