Maintaining Employee Engagement During Times of Change

If there’s one thing we can all relate to, it’s that change is the only constant in life. Change is inevitable.  In modern times, the rate of change is mind blowing! Change can be difficult for many adults to handle, especially when it relates to their careers and livelihoods. Expressing empathy and creating a workplace with a grounded culture of change can ease the stress on employees. Maintaining employee engagement during times of change can be a daunting task, but it isn’t entirely impossible.

30 years ago, companies had, on average, 1-2 change initiatives to manage. Today, it’s more like 20-25! -SHRM

That’s a whole lot of change to lead people through, while keeping them focused, motivated, and committed. Here are some key components of maintaining employee engagement during times of change.

1. Clarity

Have a clearly defined business reason for the change. Is it necessary?  Will it bring a competitive advantage? Utilize the defined reason(s) for change to communicate with employees clearly and succinctly. Keep things clear and expectations attainable in order to keep employees engaged during times of change.

Be concise – if you cannot articulate the why and vision for the change in less than 5 minutes, you’re sunk.

2. Commitment

You need the honest commitment and buy-in of your leadership team, and they must have influence when it comes to their employees.  Don’t assume they do. Influencing others is a learned skill. If your leadership team isn’t on board, you can bet that their employees won’t be either.  Likewise your leadership team needs to know that you are a leader who has earned their trust and can lead them through fearlessly.

You need “75% of management to be honestly convinced that business-as-usual” -John Kotter

3. Coordination

Form a change coalition, with appropriate representation at all levels.  The change coalition will manage through the coordinated efforts of the outlined change management process. This small group not only brings a variety of viewpoints and feedback essential for managing the change, but also for gauging how employees from all levels and vantages may react to the change.

Spending time up-front in the change management process to coordinate team members and a process for implementing the change ensures that the plan can run its course while mitigating the unnecessary risk of losing engaged employees.

4. Communication

Without a common language of the change, along with a coordinated communication schedule, silos, mixed messaging and complete misses will happen. This is undoubtedly one of the most important pillars of an effective change management process. Nothing is worse than a large, well-planned change that fails to effectively communicate. Gossip is leaked, the plan is unclear to employees, details are incorrect, and the entire organization is harmed with an amount of flight risk that otherwise avoidable.

Have a detailed and coordinated communication schedule in place, ensure your leadership team and change coalition understand confidentiality expectations surrounding the upcoming change, and define a set of terms that are both approved for use discussing the change (as well as a list of avoidable terms).

5. Capacity

All of the above will not matter if your organization, team, or individuals team members do not have the proper time, resources, and bandwidth for the change initiative to take place in the expected timeframe. You can expect to kiss employee engagement goodbye if you dump a burdensome change on top of already stretched-thin team members.

This also goes to say, timing is everything.  Attempting change too little too late, only creates panic and frustration, while delaying inevitable failure.

Change can feel uncertain and unsettling for many, but with careful thought and consideration you can plan a seamless change management process that works for everyone while still maintaining a high level of employee engagement. 

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