Change is a constant for organizations today.
In fact, we learned from Notion’s 2022 workplace change study (The Change Report) that 75% of people experienced at least three changes at work in the prior 12 months. That’s a lot by any measure.
Whether it’s a shift in leadership, a new workplace arrangement, layoffs, or a technology upgrade, these changes can be especially stressful for employees who seek a workplace with stability.
While most people can agree that change brings an organization closer to where it needs to be, successful change needs careful, intentional actions and strong, consistent support from leadership. Otherwise, an organization puts itself at risk of losing people, lowering engagement, and having financial setbacks.
Based on The Change Report noted above, what people want from their leaders during times of change boiled down to three interrelated areas: transparency, respect, and listening. Without these, leaders could face employee resistance and put a deeper divide between them and employees.
Transparency means letting employees know what’s going on and why – honestly, clearly, and frequently. It can be a powerful thing.
Transparency works hand-in-hand with authenticity. Employees don’t want a fluffy, distorted sense of reality viewed through rose-colored glasses. They want a leader who is genuine, has a sense of humor, and relates to the change in a personal way. Both can go a long way to building trust and loyalty, as well as positive long-term relationships – and perhaps even an uptick in productivity.
Putting it in action:
- Carefully prepare a communications strategy outlining the what, when, how, and why. Sharing these details in full transparency allows you to control the narrative.
- Communicate in-person or on video, rather than via email or newsletter. Use video to discuss updates, progress, and impacts, especially for big and sensitive changes. Video allows employees to see you, not just read your words and make assumptions.
- If the change has short-or long-term impacts, share what those are. Avoid keeping employees in the dark.
When asked in the 2022 study what advice they would give their CEO before the next change cycle began, people were not shy. And a few were brilliant in their simplicity: “Care about people.”
Respect is not just the absence of disrespect – it is highly intentional. It is a verb, an action of treating others as you would like to be treated. Employees want to be seen and known. They want to be humanized, not commoditized. They are looking beyond common courtesies to a deeper understanding of who they are as people. This translates best as empathy and extends into gratitude.
Putting it in action:
- Create opportunities for leader/employee connections to build the kind of relationships that nurture loyalty and trust.
- Make a point to understand and empathize with the day-to-day challenges employees face.
- Say “thank you” in both formal and informal ways – like setting up 15 minutes a week to make personal calls or drop a gratitude email.
Like respect, listening is also intentional. It means inviting ideas, remaining truly open to different viewpoints, considering all of the options, and explaining what action you took – or didn’t take.
Employees take pride in their work. They have confidence in their expertise around the tasks they do every day. It stands to reason, then, that when a company is facing change, employees want a voice in discussing the roadblocks they face and their ideas for getting them out of the way to improve productivity. This was a repeated theme in the 2022 study.
Putting it in action:
- Do more than include a Q&A in your Town Halls – let employees know what you’ll be discussing in advance and invite them to provide thoughtful questions when they’re not on the spot in a public forum.
- Create small group forums for hearing what’s on employees’ minds – and report back on what you’re doing with what you heard.
- Build “pulse surveys” into your culture – rather than only a big-splash annual survey.
- Watch your body language when talking to employees – and let them know they’ve been heard.
People at all levels accept the reality of change and want it to succeed. Smart leaders acknowledge that they can’t do it alone. Speaking with openness, demonstrating concern, and listening with intent will all make your change efforts easier and more successful.
You may need to build new muscle on some of these practices, but you will learn soon that there are long-term benefits.
You can download a copy of The Change Report here.