This insecurity is often fed by rumors, as well as the impact that change has had on other companies, industries, and the economy. Fears are heightened with the widespread dissemination of information through television, newspapers, the Internet and other media outlets.
The role of the manager is to lead by being an agent and facilitator of change. This is underscored by their personal vision of the future. As agents and facilitators of change, managers must understand that they will need to handle their employees’ fears and apprehensions regarding future changes potentially affecting their jobs and personal security.
Individuals create their own “comfort zones,” or established patterns and habits they are comfortable with. Change threatens these comfort zones and immediately places individuals in defensive modes as they attempt to defend their own personal “turfs.”
It is important for managers who lead to recognize employees’ responses to change and show them that circumstances outside of their control make change inevitable. They must share and communicate information that employees can understand and react to in a way that gets them actively participating in the organizational transformation brought about by the forces of change. This means managers must demonstrate to their employees that it is in their best interest to adapt if the organization is going to survive and prosper in the face of change.
There are a number of steps managers can take to lessen their employee’s fear of change and facilitate smoother transitions.
Managers as leaders understand the need for open dialogue and discussion with their employees, and that this must be predicated on a complete sharing of available facts and figures with them so they can see for themselves what the organization is facing.
Employees’ apprehensions can be greatly reduced by sharing available information in order for them to understand the reasons for change, the factors that make it inevitable and the options available. This openness enables employees to see the challenges facing the organization and gives them opportunities to provide input as to possible alternatives and solutions.
When information is withheld, employees are suspicious of leadership’s intentions and motivation. This surely undermines trusts and confidence, heightens fears and resistance.
The idea of change and the transformation of an organization during times of change are stressful on all parties involved. Employees want their leaders’ assurance that they will be treated fairly, that their ideas, feedback and input will be considered, and that they will be kept informed on the progress of changes and their potential impact.
If there have been circumstances in the past where the organization has not treated their employees with consideration, sentiments of mistrust will be present that leaders must deal with. Building adequate levels of trust is a challenge for managers, but enables them to lead their employees through periods of transformation.
As managers move their employees through an organizational transformation, they must make sure that they have built sufficient trust with them. Trust enables employees to have confidence in their leader’s direction. This is also true for the upper levels of the organization. Employees must have confidence in all decisions being made during times of change.
Without adequate confidence in their leadership, employees may trust the manager who is leading them at their specific level, but mistrust those higher up in the organization. This places the immediate manager in the precarious position of having to build employees’ trust and confidence in senior leadership. Prior experiences with these senior leaders may foster more mistrust than trust. In these cases, managers on all levels must cooperate to instill trust and confidence in all employees.
Managers who respect their employees’ intelligence and abilities lay the facts on the table and solicit their ideas, perspectives and input. Employee involvement in addressing issues such as change bonds all together in the conquering of a common challenge. As the organization goes through a transformation, this cohesiveness is essential to ensure a smooth transition.
Involvement means gaining employee support and getting them actively working toward the development of a solution to everyone’s benefit. When wise enough to ask, many managers are astonished by the ideas and insight they receive from their employees.
When the facts are placed before them and the choices spelled out, most employees will work together to achieve common goals and objectives. Most are actively involved because their future is at stake. There will be a certain percentage of employees who do not participate out of fear that their contribution will be used against them. In these instances, managers must inspire the rest of the group, hoping that positive peer pressure might influence more reluctant members to get involved.
The role of the manager is to lead employees through transformational change; the employee’s is to direct the change at their individual level. This means that in addition to their ideas, insights and feedback, employees must actively participate in implementing them on an individual level.
When this active involvement is cultivated, employees are informed and actively part of the development of the solutions, resistance and fear of change can be minimized. This is because managers have empowered their employees both through ownership of ideas and the responsibility for seeing them successfully implemented. It is only when orders and directives are handed down without reason and rationale that employee resistance and fears increase.
Managers know how to close the loop by providing employees with active feedback regarding the results of their efforts to transform the organization. This continual feedback provides a supply of accurate information enabling employees to make informed decisions on how to successfully adapt their ideas to new variables and conditions.
Excerpt: The Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series by Timothy Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011).