The uncertainty and extra work of organizational change can be stressful enough for employees without you unintentionally making things worse. Yet change agents sometimes cause additional frustration with the tactics they use to influence change. Here are three things to avoid so you don’t create more employee angst about change:
Sugarcoat the bad stuff
When your change initiative is going to negatively affect some employees, it’s easy to turn to euphemisms to soften the blow. It’s not “layoffs,” but “rightsizing.” It’s not a “reorg,” but a “strategic restructuring.” It’s not “extra work,” it’s a “development opportunity.” Reframing the situation so people can see the positive side is useful. But renaming bad things to pretend they’re good doesn’t fool anyone. Using fancy phrasing to try to keep people from having negative associations with the change only serves to obscure the truth, increase uncertainty and speculation, and reduce trust in your message. If you’re going to exasperate people, it might as well be with the truth.
Address the group for individual issues
Ever receive an all-employee memo about the dress code because one person wore flip-flops last week? If a small number of people are displaying behaviors that work against change, address those people individually. Don’t send a generalized memo or create a new policy to address the issue caused by a few. If you do, you’ll frustrate everyone else, who will either already know who the real culprits are, or who will wonder why they are being rebuked for something they didn’t do. Meanwhile, the individuals you meant to address will not get the attention they deserve, because it was easier to address the group instead of providing direct feedback to the few who needed to hear it.
Ignore organizational politics
Objectively, organizational politics are a hindrance to change. It may seem necessary to act as if politics don’t exist in order for you to get anything done. After all, if everyone started from a level playing field – everyone had equal power and authority, no one jockeyed for returned favors, there were no alliances or turf wars – change would be so much easier to manage. But those interpersonal dynamics have built up over time to become the way things get done in your organization, for better or for worse. Ignoring politics means relationships will be rattled and someone will get burned. If you need to address politics, treat it as an endeavor unto itself, with deliberate activities to change how things get done – not by pretending the political games don’t apply to you.
As change agents, we often do things that make it easier on ourselves but frustrate the very people we’re trying to influence. Take a step back and remember what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the tactics you’re using. What would you prefer to experience as an employee going through change?
Want more info about how change goes bad? Join me for a free webinar on Tuesday, September 10 at 1:00 pm Eastern called How Change Gets Stuck.