Managing and supporting front-line employees through change is essential for the success of your project. To that end, equipping your managers and supervisors with the right tools is equally important. Training plans and communication outlines can get you moving in the right direction, but being prepared for the most common questions from employees will give your managers peace of mind.
Below are the 10 most frequently asked questions by employees about changes. They are from the Employee’s Survival Guide to Change.
The questions and answers below provide a basic foundation for a face-to-face question-and-answer session between a supervisor and their employees. Each answer is more powerful and effective when supervisors combine the basic answer with company-specific information and data as it relates to the change—essentially customizing the answer for their organization.
The questions and answers are all part of building awareness among employees.
Lack of awareness is often the number one cause of change resistance among employees, yet it is the easiest resistance point to fix.
Answering these common questions allows employees to uncover:
It may not be just one question that provides the answers employees are looking for and it may not be the same set for each employee, but the following questions and answers will get you on the road to building awareness among employees.
1. Why is change happening now?
You may feel like change is happening suddenly and that it is directed right at you. In reality, most changes begin outside the company many months or even years before internal changes take place. Research shows that most major business changes are a response to changes in the external marketplace.
These external marketplace changes can result in:
External business drivers take time to set in. If they have already affected the bottom line of your company, change is needed immediately. In some cases it is already too late—the internal change should have started much sooner.
2. What is the risk of not changing?
When external marketplace changes become apparent inside the organization, managers suddenly realize the risks of not changing.
For businesses, the risk of not changing could mean:
For employees, the risk of not changing could mean:
3. What is the rush?
Employees usually find out what is happening after the fact. Organizations do not always share financial information or talk about poor performance issues with employees. Therefore, when change is needed quickly, employees may be taken by surprise.
On the one hand, organizations are trying to implement change as quickly as possible. On the other hand, employees are one step behind trying to understand why the change is needed and how they will be impacted.
Unfortunately for the company, most employees are in no hurry to change. In fact, many employees may not see the need to change at all. Forcing employees to change when they do not understand the business reasons can be a lot like pushing a giant cube of Jello—you might have an impact, but no real overall shift occurs.
When the force is removed, everything returns to the way it was before.
4. If I wait long enough, will the change just go away?
If financial success of the organization depends on change, then you can expect the change to happen with or without you. Waiting will usually not change the outcome.
In most cases a company will change, even in the face of resistance from employees and especially if financial success is at stake.
This does not imply that change will be bad for you. In the end, many changes result in positive outcomes for employees. Benefits might include better tools, improved work processes, more secure jobs, and new opportunities for you to advance your career.
5. What will the change mean to me?
Change to a business can include:
How will the change impact me? That depends on your current job, the extent of the change, and the choices you make in response to the change.
With small changes, you may not be impacted at all. With major changes, you may be doing new work, using new tools, or reporting to a new manager. With radical changes to the business, some employees may work in other departments or even move to other companies.
When the change is implemented, each person will be affected differently. In the end, how you react to the change plays an important role in how the change will impact you.
The good news is: The actual impact of the change on you is directly related to how you react to the change.
In other words, you are in control of how you respond to change. Better yet, how the organization views you and your future role in the company may depend on your response to change and the choices you make.
6. What are my choices?
Your choices about how to respond to change will vary as the organization moves through the change process. Think about the change in these time periods:
Your choices and their consequences depend on the phase of change you are experiencing. In some cases, choices you make may have negative outcomes. They may be bad for you and for the organization. Other choices you make will benefit you and enhance your ability to thrive in a changing organization.
7. What are the benefits of supporting the change?
The benefits of supporting the change, especially changes that are critical to the success of the organization, include:
8. What if I disagree with the change?
What if I feel they are fixing the wrong problem? Be patient. Keep an open mind. Make sure you understand the business reasons for the change. However, don't be afraid to voice your specific objections or concerns. If your objections are valid, chances are good they will come to light and be resolved. If you feel strongly against a specific element of the change, let the right people know, and do it in an appropriate manner.
9. What if they have tried before and failed?
The history of your company may include some previous change projects that failed. If failure is what employees are accustomed to, the organization will have a hard time erasing the past. For companies to be successful, everyone must be prepared to accept the past as history and focus on what lies ahead.
10. What if I am forced to do more for the same pay?
When your organization is undergoing a change, this usually means that new processes, systems or skills are required. Your role in the changed environment may include learning these new processes or acquiring new skills. Indeed, some of your responsibilities may change.
For the old way of doing things, compensation may actually decrease as the value of that work to the organization goes down. However, compensation for new work may increase as the value for new services and products increases. This is a part of change.
These are not the only questions you'll encounter, and there are certainly a number of "what if" scenarios that we can't address in a blog. If you are preparing for a must-win project or your organization is continually trying to build change capability, get expert advice and training! Check out some of our solutions for change practitioners and organizations:
Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.