A big concern for manager during times of change is how to keep their people engaged. We all know that change is hard. Just because it’s become a regular part of our work life doesn’t make it any easier. As a matter of fact, because we are continually changing and adapting, keeping people engaged when we announce the fifth major change in the past two years is harder than keeping them engaged for the first one.
Why is that? In large part it’s the nature of change but it’s also because of how our organizations manage or mismanage change.
Long term, real engagement comes from four factors — having a sense that what you’re doing is meaningful, the ability to make progress, feeling competent and having a say in how you do your work or a sense of autonomy. Too often, our change efforts fly in the face of these four factors. For example:
- Change that seems to be done for the sake of change. Too often why change is happening isn’t communicated well. It may not be apparent why this change is meaningful. If someone understand why it’s happening, he’s more likely to make the connection. When communicating about change, make sure you talk about why it’s happening and how it connects to what’s important to each individual.
- The change effort never makes it to the goal. Too often, change efforts are stopped before they ever reach the stated goal. And then, we introduce another one. People are never going to feel like they’re making progress if half way into every change initiative, we stop that effort and introduce the next one. Before deep sixing a change, step back and ask if you’ve really given it the time to work.
- “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Change creates uncertainty. Roles can become unclear. People are sure what the expectations are. Individuals may not be sure how to accomplish the task in the new organization. It’s difficult to feel competent when you don’t know what you’re doing and no one will give you direction. Make sure you are helping people understand their roles and responsibilities. They need to hear it multiple times in multiple ways. Don’t assume that because you’ve told them once, it’s all clear.
- Changing the processes so that there is no room for inconsistency. Some change is about improving service or quality by creating immutable standards. Templates and procedures and operating principles are created to make the achievement of these standards easier. However, when these templates, procedures and operating principles are implemented so that there is no room for personal adaptation or creativity, you’ve lost people. As someone once said, “you could have a monkey do this job. What do you need me for?” Yes, sometimes templates and procedures add value but ask yourself if your approach to implementing them is also killing personal autonomy.