Embracing Change in the Workplace

Samantha Ventura | Jan 21, 2019

Change can be hard. This is true for every facet of our lives, and seems especially true in our workplace environments. Even for people who enjoy new challenges and fresh perspectives, change is often accompanied by frustration, watercooler dissent, and overall griping — from the seasoned employee to the impressionable new hire.

Change is often made more difficult because there is little to no focus on the transition part, which his arguably the most important.

According to a 2017 report from the Harvard Business Review, roughly 70% of companies who push for a strong change in their workplace ultimately fail. This is likely because they did not prepare their employees for the transition that was about to happen.

So, what is the difference between change and transition? Change is external, and typically involves goals, strategies, action or project plans,  and one or all of those is usually what is talked about the most. In fact, sometimes the only thing shared by leadership is the overarching goal of where the company is headed. Transition accompanies change but is typically left along the wayside. The reason the transition part is so important is because it is the most PERSONAL  part of the change. The transition part is personal to the employee, as it is the actual internal process that employee finds themselves going through when attempting to adapt to the change as well as whatever new situation that change is presenting in that individual’s ’s life. Until people are able to successfully transition from the old way to the new way, the change will not come easy, if at all.

Having something transition in your life requires you to accept the change that is also part of that transition. This becomes a psychological process and it is difficult for some to accept a transition, and the accompanying change, without proper discussion, time, and reassurance. Often you will hear leaders say people need to just “get on board” yet they are forgetting that most people do not like or embrace change! William Bridges (1933-2013) was a pioneer in studying change management and divided transition into three stage: endings, exploration, and new beginnings.

Endings: This is the first reaction of the person to the change, typically accompanied by anger, shock, and often large amounts of gossip in the workplace. This is because the transition is asking employees to make alterations to how something has “always been done.” Sometimes a change requires a lot of  employees such things as altering  their job title or status, moving their location, changing their commute — and maybe even watching some of their friends be fired or laid off. Leaders need to let employees “grieve” a bit without taking this personally. Their work and their work environment are personal to them, and that is OK.

Exploration: Bridges’ also calls this the neutral zone — it’s the most disorganized and chaotic of all the stages because it is when the actual change is happening. People are experiencing a variety of emotions such as fear, confusion, uncertainty, and stress. But they can also be feeling a newfound energy, creativity, and ultimately, acceptance. For leaders this is crunch time, when ample time should be given to prepare employees for what is happening. Conversations, meetings, transparent messages, and follow-up communications are all great ways to encourage employees to accept the change by being able to deal with the transition. Be patient and thoughtful, leaders! This is a crucial time in getting your change(s) implemented successfully, and if not handled well can mean a large amount of demoralized and disenchanted employees walking among the larger group. 

New Beginnings: This is the exciting part: When the other stages have been dealt with successfully, this is where you start to see the change being implemented and the employees thriving as the new beliefs, processes, and practices take root. You can often feel the energy moving in a very positive direction, with employees feeling engaged and the improvements you envisioned actually happening. 

If you are a leader attempting to implement any change into your business, be sure to be open to feedback, transparent with what the change is going to mean to your employees, and be a strong role model for what the new way is going to “look like.” Beware of appeasing people who are upset about the change, but at the same time recognize that you’ll need buy-in from your followers during the time of transition. Stay strong with your vision, and bring others on board with your energy, compassion, and thoughtful approach to how your employees are feeling.

As a follower, change can breed wonderful, energized, updated processes, hiring practices, workspaces, and ultimately better opportunities for you as the employee. Vocalize concerns, but work hard to avoid gossip and tirades against leadership. Be open to the ride, and support growth for you, your leaders, and ultimately, the organization.

Samantha Ventura is CEDIA’s Senior Director of Education.