Change happens. All organizations will go through a change. The word change is widely defined as the act of becoming different. It sounds simple enough, but if it is so simple, then why do so many organizations and their resources struggle during this time? Changes in an organization can be as large as a major reorganization or as small as an update to an existing policy. In any example of change, there is an art of approach and many challenges during a successful implementation. Leaders in an organization are expected to facilitate change and expected to avoid a resistance to change from their staff in order to accomplish successful implementation. Sounds easy, right?
As a leader, it is imperative to understand a few things:
- First, what is the change? How will it affect your team, and what obstacles may be foreseen? It may be obvious, but this step is often forgotten until the people discover the change “by accident.” For instance, if the printer now has a security feature that forces a person to “log in” before printing, there could be a calling to address the changes. The change would be that the people using it would have to understand that there is an update to the way they always used the printer, and they have to understand what is different. If this is not explained to those who use the printer, they may become confused, annoyed, or even irate when attempting to use the printer.
- Second, there may be a need to explain why there is a change. By explaining the “why” it may help to create buy-in from the people who are affected. In the change of a printing method, it may have to be explained from the company’s perspective. This explanation could be something as simple as the organization wants to be proactive on privacy and proprietary methods. Prints are often left on the machines causing risk for sensitive information for people and the company’s intellectual property. By adding the security feature, it will cut down on the amount of information that is unintentionally shared.
- Last, and perhaps most importantly, gain a sense of two-way communication with the people the change effects. As a leader, we can often hear the reasons why our employees are resistant and the reasons can typically be addressed. It is the employees who will give the best feedback, and if they are not communicated to and if they do not feel that they are being heard, there could be resistance. Again, in the printer scenario, when the change is announced and the “why” is revealed, it would be a great time to hear what those who are affected may think. They may have a valid reason why this change is not good for them, such as: “we are on the phones, and if I have to type a security code in every time I print, it could affect my metrics.” It may be a great point that you, as a leader, would bring back to the decision makers.
As a leader, communicating the change is important. A great communication technique is tying the message back to the mission of the organization. In health insurance, the example of the printer with a security feature ties nicely to the mission, especially with the HIPAA laws. The purpose of communication is to engage the audience/listener, gain commitment and ultimately to build trust (Baldoni, 2003). The message will help to inform, involve, ignite and invite conversations (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: The Four I’s
The four elements (or four I’s) must be evident in the message, especially when change is involved.
- Inform – a leader must inform the followers of what is expected and what the change is
- Involve – the followers will have a desire to be involved by soliciting their feedback
- Ignite – a person’s imagination is what helps to make decisions and organizations powerhouses
- Invite – a follower may only become involved when invited. A leader must create a safe environment for the followers to speak up
When the message that there is a change with the “why,” and when the communication is open, it is important to check up often on those who the change effects. A simple, “How is the process going?” and, “Are you experiencing any difficulties after the change?” may help to better understand what people are going through. If it is a great process and the change is yielding great results, people may begin to boast about how great the change is. However, if the change is not good, or if it was not communicated well, the people will be vocal. A great leader must listen and figure out what is working and what is not, in an effort to find out what can be done to help the people.
To reiterate the first statement, change is hard. Change may create resistance. The best technique is to communicate and to involve the people in the process.
Michael Loete is currently the Director of Provider Network Operations at iCircle Services. He has studied leadership and has earned his bachelor of science in organizational management and masters of science in strategic leadership from Roberts Wesleyan College. Currently, Michael is pursuing his doctorate in executive leadership at St. John Fisher College where he is writing his dissertation and has titled it: “communication styles of senior leaders in health insurance: successful navigation of organizational changes while understanding and avoiding cynicism and resistance to change”.
Baldoni, J. (2003). Great communication secrets of leaders. New York: McGraw-Hill.