If you're a change practitioner, it's your job to prepare and equip people managers for their roles during change, which includes answering questions from their direct reports. These common questions and answers can be a great resource for your people managers, especially when they're new to their change management role. When people managers are well prepared, they develop the confidence they need to successfully support front-line employees and teams through changes of all kinds.
These are the 10 most frequently asked questions employees ask about change:
Understand how a change will impact your teams and prepare to answer common questions with Prosci's Yesterday-Tomorrow Exercise.
Anyone can use the questions and answers that follow as a foundation for a face-to-face Q&A session with direct reports during a change initiative. Every employee may not need answers to every question or the same questions. And each answer is more relevant and effective when tailored to your unique organization and change using data and specifics.
Answering Awareness-related questions enables employees to understand:
Lack of Awareness is often the number one cause of resistance among employees. Fortunately, it's the easiest resistance point to address, starting with the answers below.
As an employee, 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 your organization's bottom line, change is needed immediately. (In some cases it is already too late—the internal change should have started much sooner.)
When external marketplace changes become apparent inside the organization, leaders and people 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:
Employees usually find out what's happening after the fact. Organizations do not always share financial information or talk about the organization's poor performance with employees. Therefore, when change is needed quickly, you may be taken by surprise.
On one hand, organizations are trying to implement change as quickly as possible. On the other hand, you are one step behind trying to understand why the change is needed and how you and your job will be impacted.
Most employees are in no hurry to change. In fact, you may not see the need to change at all. And if the organization forces employees to change when they do not understand the business reasons, it can be a lot like pushing a giant cube of gelatin—you might make an impact, but no real overall shift occurs. When the force is removed, everything returns to the way it was before.
If the financial success of an organization depends on a change, you can expect it to happen with or without you. Waiting usually will not change the outcome. In most cases, an organization will implement a change even when employees resist it, 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 to advance your career.
Change to a business can include:
How will the change impact you? It 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 need to work in other departments or even move to other organizations.
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. 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.
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 the 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.
The benefits of supporting the change, especially changes that are critical to the success of the organization, include:
What if you 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.
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 organizations to be successful, everyone must be prepared to accept the past as history and focus on what lies ahead.
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.
Compensation for the old way of doing things may actually decrease as the organization values that work less and less. However, compensation for new work may increase as the value for new services and products increases. This is a part of change.
These common questions are not the only questions you'll encounter as a change leader or people manager, and there are certainly a number of "what if" scenarios that require deeper conversations and guidance. But understanding how people feel during change, the questions they (and you) will ask, and preparing for thoughtful conversations can help employees achieve greater Awareness—so they can start to transition through the change successfully.
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.
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