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You go first! Leading employee change

Do your employees roll their eyes when they hear: "We’re changing the procedure for... (insert any process here)?”  Do they make snarky comments anytime they hear there is going to be a change in reviews, timekeeping, customer management, ordering, etc?  It seems that whenever employees hear the word “change”, it becomes all about them. Will this change eliminate or make my job harder? Will the change be for the good?

And who can blame them? Change is stressful. It is safe and warm inside your comfort zone. No one in his or her right mind would want to leave it without the proper motivation.  However, if you want to encourage strong employee engagement, motivation for change, and reaching your goals, the comfort zone will have to be left behind to meet those challenges.

One thing is certain. In today’s climate of fast-paced change, a company has to be flexible and fast to adapt.  Just think, two years ago, social media was barely on the landscape for most corporations.  Today, every company uses Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, RSS feeds, etc.  The bottom of their corporate emails look like a color wheel of social media icons!  Change is going to happen – that’s a given fact.  It is up to the corporation to decide what changes are needed, and to plan so that the employees understand that the change is for the better and how they will be better off in the long run.  Hey, sometimes the employees are right to be concerned. What were some bad corporate changes over the years?  Think Netflix or Classic Coke - corporate changes that surely did not go over too well.

It’s usually the job of HR to communicate, train and plan for any change.  Some business changes, like switching health insurance providers, cannot be planned in advance.  When it happens, it happens, like it or not.  But other major changes have to be planned far enough in advance to allow for a roll-out plan and even more important, a communication plan.  In the strategic planning process, HR should help create a well-planned, well-executed roll out.  There is nothing that will make employees shy away from corporate change more than a failed attempt at change in the past.  That is why you should have a detailed, well thought-out plan, communication and roll out process.  The number one rule: Don’t rush it! Plan, plan, and then, plan some more.

Anyone in HR is familiar with the classic change models; Kotter’s “Eight Step Process for Change” and the equally classic Kurt Lewin's “Unfreeze-Move-Freeze” model.  Over thirty years of research by Dr. John Kotter indicates that 70% of all major change efforts in organizations fail.

The most important points in these models are:

  • Plan – Make sure to give employees enough notice that a change will be occurring.

  • Model the desired behavior and designate a cheerleader for the change.

  • Communicate – Studies show that communication approaches using multiple media methods will have the most effect on reinforcing positivity for the change.

  • Reward and recognize efforts when they accept and utilize the change.

Change is inevitable.  However, there are steps that you can take to positively strengthen your employee’s relationship to change. Acceptance of change is easier if the employees are given a proposed roll-out date, and then given time for the concept to sink in.  No one likes to be told that a change is occurring, effective tomorrow – talk about stress!  When communicating the change, try to send out the message in multiple formats – verbal, meeting format, email and PowerPoint, for example.  Then, once the change has occurred, check in often, and take the temperature of the room, so to speak. Confirm and congratulate successes, as well as the effort put forth to change. Appreciation for effort goes a long way.  Finally, make sure that throughout the entire process, management models the desired behavior and shows enthusiasm for the outcome.  Communicate how the change will make the company run smoother and in the end, more successful.

Remember, just like in our personal lives, it takes 21 days to develop a new habit.  It may take much more than 21 days of positive change for employees to stop rolling their eyes at the term, but with your leadership on board and setting the example, it will certainly cause less stress.

This post was written by Jeri Johansen, PHR –HR Blogger and Manager of Human Resources at and Co-Chair of the 2013 Northern Ohio Human Resource Conference ( specializes in employment screening and background checks. You can find on Facebook and Twitter also.

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