Anticipating and Handling Employee Fears of Change
Before managers can successfully lead their organizational units through a transformational change, they must overcome existing general fears and negative attitudes. Most of these fears and attitudes have been formed over the past two decades by actions and decisions organizations have made that have detrimentally affected individual employees.
From the 1980s on, businesses have faced the greatest overall restructuring since the Industrial Revolution. The depth and scope of this restructuring has been painful. Many employees have experienced downsizing, layoffs and a host of management fads, including the chaos, uncertainty and heightened frustration of reengineering. The methods used often resulted in covering and masking a number of management actions and mistakes.
Pain was further increased by the visible unfairness and callousness of many employee layoffs. The result left for managers to deal with is an employee mindset that translates into a lack of willingness to contribute personal initiative and productive work. This reflects itself in less effective teaming efforts and a lower output of quality decisions and products, as well as decreasing the loyalty leaders require from their unit members to lead their organization through the ongoing transformational process.
This is important for managers to grasp because organizations competing in the twenty-first century need the willing help and assistance of intelligent, motivated, collaborative and enterprising employees. This presents leaders with a real challenge: they must first work with their employees to overcome the problems and sentiments of past organizational actions before moving forward into an active transformation. Organizational stakeholders and investors who want to see increased results and overall improvement further complicate the process.
The International Survey Research Corporation, which tracks employee satisfaction for Fortune 1000 companies, reported that since 1989 employees:
- Feel that management fails to provide clear direction.
- Do not believe what management says.
- Are less sure about keeping their jobs.
- Worry about their company’s future.
- Fear being laid off.
- Feel overall morale is lower.
These facts frame the starting point defining where many leaders find themselves in the face of transformational change in their organizations. While time heals all wounds, most managers do not have this luxury in the face of the chaotic events and issues.
The most practical answer to overcoming these fears and attitudes is increasing employee empowerment. However, this is not likely to work without the total commitment of everyone holding a leadership position. Leadership can come from the ranks of senior managers or from organizational unit and team leaders. Any major transition will not work without a commitment from each level.
In addition to employee empowerment, managers need to establish working teams to tackle ongoing problems and concerns. It is better to establish multiple teams than to create one involving every employee in the organizational unit; the best workable size is between five and six members. In many instances, teams can work on the same problems. This furnishes a method of developing multiple solutions and alternatives. A collaborative team can be established to select the best solution and then assign specific aspects of it to each team to address and implement.
Employing a team approach demands specific leadership skills, including:
- Goal setting
- Effective follow up procedures
If managers fail to develop one of these three skills or eliminate them from their leadership contributions, the team will break down.
Managers furthermore cannot assume that if they simply form a team, participants will decipher what needs to be done and how things need to be accomplished. They must train unit members in working together in teams, focusing on the important issues, dealing with other teammates, and getting results.
In order for this training to be successful, managers must make sure the following team elements are adhered to, including:
- Clarity of goals
- Good communications
- Effective dissemination of business objectives so the team understands how it fits into the general business plan
- An effective process to guide and direct the actions of the team
While empowerment and an effective team approach will not immediately resolve many of the nagging employee problems and attitudes a manager must actively deal with, it does establish a foundation for improved performance and participation. As leaders initially start the process, they will need to develop strategies to cope with and address the emotional baggage issues brought to the table by their employees. They must allow the venting of frustrations and criticisms, then eliminate each of these issues in turn until full participation is achieved.
Excerpt: Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 16.95 USD
If you would like to learn more about assisting employees deal with the realities of change, refer to The Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.
Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreward Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
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