Is the change in your office atmosphere because staff feel too many ineffective changes have left them feeling ignored? Or, are they lacking clear direction? Whilst there could be a few underlying reasons, widespread discord is often the result of the workforce or individuals feeling out of touch with goings-on. Perhaps you overheard the end of a hushed conversation, or the atmosphere in your office feels like it lacks drive. Or, maybe things just don’t seem as upbeat as they used to, and it is starting to impact productivity.
Have you tried many different changes that have gone on to fail, usually because the process wasn’t handled appropriately, and you attempted to push ahead with little or no support from those affected? If your business has continually gone ahead with changes without investing time and energy into emotionally supporting your employees, it is no surprise that you haven’t got the buy-in and support needed to make it happen.
We look at some of the signs you should look out for and the likely cause. Ask yourself, are they subtle if you have your finger on the pulse, or are you guilty of losing sight that a people-centred approach is most likely to win over any process-driven strategy?
- When you hear more frequent or louder complaints, not necessarily voiced to you, but in corridors or desk huddles.
- Stressed staff – the first reaction to a change announcement appears to be anxiety.
- Some people do not resist in any way, while others seem more determined than ever to push back.
- Cynicism and negativity are more widespread than positivity.
- No one wants to know more; they seem oblivious, apathetic or just visibly tired at your announcement.
- Productivity falls and absences increase.
- More discord and less motivation creep even in areas that are not directly impacted by proposed changes.
There are various reasons your workforce may be sick of change, but some of the more common ones are described below:
- No sharing of reasons, visions and change stories to encourage buy-in
You have stopped sharing the reason for making changes or explaining what you are hoping to achieve. Employees are naturally wary of change, so it’s not surprising that constant changes wear them down. If you do not engage them in your change story and how they fit within the process, it can quickly turn the change process into a chore and lead to obstruction. The main reason for change failure is a lack of employee buy-in, this will happen no matter how many or few changes you have attempted if you do not look after the thoughts and feelings of your workforce. In times of frequent change, you have to work even harder to succeed. If your change managers lack change management training, they may not appreciate the level of work that is actually required to overcome resistance or support the workforce through the process.
- Your employees feel you no longer listen
When employees repeatedly feel unheard, the most damaging result is they stop trying. You need a committed workforce. When you stop listening to or acknowledging their views, especially during times of change, they will lose focus to stay connected. Your teams need a ‘way in’. Suppose business leaders and change managers do not give this because they believe that a workforce should do as told without question. In that case, you miss the valuable opportunity and positivity gained by fostering a two-way relationship.
- They feel you no longer understand or expect too much
It’s easy to get lost in making arbitrary decisions without taking the time to understand the resistance you find yourself facing. Managing change is most definitely a business area that suffers when you stop listening. Your workforce loses faith that you have their best interests at heart. After all, if they no longer feel you hear them, they have no voice or reason to support you. When expectations are aligned, even if they are not borne from agreement over the course of action, the results will be more positive. An employee feeling they have been heard, irrespective of any agreement, can ease the path. As a change management consultant, you may not agree or be able to make changes demanded of you, but communicating this as part of two way dialogue is the only way to turn around much of the negativity. You will gain support, borne out of mutual respect and understanding, even when you can’t agree.
- Too many past failures
Repeated change failures will lead to more failure, no matter how much the change is needed. If past attempts to initiate change have failed, trust will be lost. Many change management initiatives fail because they overly complicate the process and do not support the needs of the workforce to execute the change. If you are continually forced to make changes that bring no benefit to you, it comes as no surprise that you will be less keen to accept readily the need for yet another change. This reluctance to buy in or believe the next one will be any different will spread like wildfire around the organisation. It is highly infectious and incredibly damaging to the commitment and dedication of even the most loyal workforce.
Wherever you are in the process of change, remember to be successful, you need a committed workforce. Be open and honest with everyone, no matter how junior they are. Encourage feedback and open clear lines of communication along the way. Give and encourage feedback, praise a job well done, share progress updates and keep motivation high. Invest time and money in keeping your relationship with your employees alive. Sometimes the best person to educate the business on how it works best is those making it happen day in and day out. Empower your workforce to communicate and participate in the change process. People are more likely to embrace and support change if they can see why and how it will work. Understanding change impact reduces fear of the unknown, so be sure to give everyone the time, resources and support to adjust.
Having identified change saturation as a cause of change fatigue with your organisation, you will certainly want to fix it before investing heavily in yet more change. Here are some ways you can get real buy-in for your ideas.