We all know change is necessary and inevitable. Still, people resist it--sometimes they even rebel against it. Why? Because change threatens the comfort zone we hunker into while living and working in a known and predictable environment, even when that environment isn't happy, productive, or safe. We've all heard the saying, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't." The fear of the unknown can keep even the most intelligent person stuck in the status quo.

I worked at NBC-TV Chicago back in the late 80's when General Electric acquired the network. Jack Welch, who was GE's CEO at the time, immediately stepped in and eliminated over 100,000 jobs, making him the least popular leader in NBC's history--but not for long. I recall the first-time opportunities brought to employees at all levels to participate in Welch's celebrated Workout sessions, where our ideas for increasing efficiency and productivity were heard and often later implemented. When I ended up on a break-out team with Welch himself, I experienced his collaborative approach and sensitivity to the needs of others. It turned out that I really liking the guy, which altered my view of his drastic job-cut decision.

When a leader changes things up in the office, employees may feel threatened, cheated, out of control of their future. Even the removal of a coffee machine can spark feelings of fear and resentment. Being a business coach I frequently witness what seem like irrational reactions from employees when my clients make significant changes in their business model and systems. Such reactions are simply fear-based responses and can often be prevented.

While change itself is definitely inevitable, a negative response to it is not. Here are some strategies to keep in mind when you shake it up at the office.

Define the vision.

When people understand, not only the reason for change, but also the rewards associated with it, they are far more likely to buy into the process. Look to the big picture and the pieces that matter most to your employees when you introduce your intentions. Instead of focusing your dialog on the how, talk about the benefits. What's the payoff or reward associated with the change you are proposing? For example, you have purchased new software to streamline the billing process. Introducing the idea of the software alone may make your billing person feel threatened. Talk about the fact that it will streamline billing, result in fewer uncollectible accounts, and lead to larger or more frequent bonuses for the team, and your accounting person will embrace the change with open arms.

Include employees in the process.

While Welch's decision to eliminate jobs was unpopular, those of us remaining became part of the process to improve the overall health of the company. We felt valued and heard, therefore, future changes--even the difficult ones--met with little-to-no resistance.

At team meetings talk to your employees about the problems your business faces and task them with discovering solutions. Avoid dismissing their ideas if they don't meet your expectations; praise them and build upon their basic concepts if possible.

Admit to your mistakes.

Of course, you will end up suffering the consequences of poor decisions as you build your business because we all make mistakes. However, the real damage occurs when a leader does not take responsibility--or worse, blames someone or something else for the problem. Your employees will demonstrate empathy and understanding when you acknowledge your mistakes. They will want to be part of the solution instead of resisting the change.

Offer tradeoffs.

Like Welch in the '80s, Jack Dorsey took the lead at Twitter in October of 2015 and immediately announced the elimination of up to 336 jobs, 8% of its global workforce. Certainly, an unpopular decision, but he won the loyalty and respect of the remaining workforce when he gifted them with one-third of his own company stock--roughly $198 million worth of shares.

Get creative when you must implement difficult change. Recently, one of my clients cut two employees from a 40-hour week to a 30-hour week. Both are good employees, both moms, and both dependent upon a reliable income. Rather than make the cut and leave the employees to cope with the financial loss, my client and I devised a plan to offer them the opportunity to work from home two days a week. These valued team members are very happy with the trade off since it gives them more time with their children, lessens the time and expense of commuting, and offers more flexibility.

Think beyond the change alone when it's time to introduce it to your team. Every coin has a flip-side; a little brainstorming and creativity will bring even the most resistant employees to your side.

Published on: May 8, 2017
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