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How to Manage Employee Culture Shock

Sept. 11, 2015
Want more resilient and adaptable employees? Here are some tips, along with things to look out for. 

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in different countries. With every change came the anticipated culture shock.

The truth is that employees can experience culture shock without ever leaving their hometown. It happens every day throughout the manufacturing sector in situations like changing the work process, a relocation from one division to another, a merger or acquisition or a new supervisor.

Recently, we’ve been helping a customer implement major changes to production lines and have experienced extremely positive, even transformational, results. Of course, the change has resulted in some culture shock.

Here’s a breakdown of the four phases of culture shock, the pitfalls associated with each and how to effectively manage them. After all, the investment in adaptable and resilient employees is one that is sure to pay dividends.

1. Honeymoon phase

This phase is characterized by an appreciation of the differences found in the new role. In the business world, this time can be a real motivator as people are typically excited by new ideas and early successes. We recently had an operator tell us, “We’ve never seen the line run this well. It’s the way it’s supposed to run.”

Action: Encourage this optimism.

2. Negotiation phase

The changes start to lose their luster when the realization hits that they are likely causing more work, compounded by a lack of routine. This phase holds the biggest risk as, if not managed properly, your team will revert to old habits. For example, after implementing new running conditions in one of our customer’s primary processes, we discovered that one shift always ended up with higher carbon dioxide emissions than the others. Turns out, that shift liked the way things used to run and had been doing things the old way.

Action: Pay attention to morale and continue to encourage the successes you are seeing. Help them adjust to their new normal.

3. Adjustment phase

As people become accustomed to their new environment, they begin to adapt. In this phase, you’ll start to see the resistance in your team start to subside. But be aware that different team members will enter this phase at different times. We are currently experiencing this with one of our major projects. From shift to shift, we see the process improving and then falling back.

Action: Be sure to strongly encourage all moves towards adjustment. Make sure that those that still haven’t made the adjustment aren’t holding others back.

4. Master phase

At last, the change has become the new normal. The team has forgotten about the old way or at most they look back at it with a new sense of pride. (Remember when we used to do this that way? Look how much better we are now.) Congratulations. You have successfully negotiated culture shock.

Action: Moving forward, always combine consistent assurance with education, immediate reinforcement of positivity and progress with a few gentle nudges along the way. Managing the symptoms of culture shock is a significant part of executing a successful initiative.

(Andrew Waycott is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technology Officer at Factora.)

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