We’re at a point in time where there is a recognition that whilst the laws applicable to your business haven’t changed, the way that you are required to implement controls to comply with these regulations has almost certainly changed. There are also situations within your business that might have resulted in radical change – working from home for example. As Bob Dylan sang in 1964, “The Times, They Are A-Changin’” and I think they will continue to do so for quite some time.
Change can be challenging for you as business owners and managers and scary for your employees. So how do we manage these periods of change and get through these tough times? Well, this is the technique that I like to use when I’m faced with these situations and I thought that I’d share it with you.
The main point is to recognise that employees and organisations fundamentally don’t like to change their ways. We are all like this – it’s natural! We all like the things that we know, as we know how to do them well and we can do them in our sleep. It does not require any effort, or even hard work. This is our natural resting point, our comfort zone. But things cannot stay the same forever. We need them to change. We need, therefore, to understand our employee’s typical response and to deal with this. The typical response will essentially be to move through four stages: shock, uncertainty, a turning point, and moving forwards.
The shock stage is entirely understandable: “what do you mean I need to change what I do?”. The common consequence is that employees retreat into their shell and refuse to do anything different, or anything at all. If you can get them past this stage then uncertainty kicks in: “well okay, but I have no idea how to do this”. At this point efficiency and output will dip as employees struggle to get the hang of the new process or situation. Persevere though because after a while you’ll hit the turning point: “oh this actually isn’t that bad after all! I get it!”. Solutions will start to present themselves and things will start to get better. Efficiencies and output will start to return to normal, or better. We then ‘move forwards’ and the change becomes the new normal.
So, what’s the key? Communication, communication, communication! We’ve all been there before haven’t we? Our boss has said, “we’re going to do this from tomorrow, so get ready!” Err, what’s going to happen tomorrow? Why are we doing this? What’s the point? What do I have to do? Here’s a new plan for you to think about:
- Speak to your employees honestly about the situation. Explain why there is a need for change and get their thoughts on what they see as the issues that might be encountered.
- Ask your employees for their help. They’re the experts in what they do, after all they do the work and you pay them good money to do so. Use their knowledge and experience! If the situation needs to change, what suggestions have they got that could help? They might have got some fantastic ideas that you might never have considered.
- Make them feel part of the process. No one likes to be told what to do. By listening to your employees and getting them involved, they will start to take ownership of the change. If they feel like it belongs to them, they become invested in the process and are more likely to want to see it succeed.
- Get regular feedback. It’s unlikely that you’ll get the perfect answer from the very start. Things might need to be tweaked all throughout the process. Keep asking for any suggestions for improvement and any obstacles that are being encountered.
- Provide regular updates. Tell everyone how things are going. Share successes and any lessons that have been learned.
If you are in this situation and you cannot see a way forwards, then please don’t hesitate to contact us. We would love to help out and can even provide specialist training courses such as IOSH’s Leading Safely course, which talks in more detail about these concepts.
By Ian Clayton CMIOSH – Health & Safety Manager