Reminiscing on childhood there are a lot of games that come to mind. Foursquare was quite popular in my school yard as well as red rover before the school banned us from playing it because kids kept getting close lined as they ran full speed through interlocked hands. However, one of the most popular games that we loved to do was to dogpile one another. One of our friends would yell someone’s name and we would all run and jump on top of that person. While another game that was inherently dangerous, it also was a ton of fun. Although we do not physically jump on top of one another in the workplace there it is a bit of us that seems to have carried over this idea of dogpiling onto one another into the professional field. How often have you seen senior leaders challenge the status quo or ask employees to think outside the box? Forbes put that question out to to more than 1,000 employees across industries nationwide; the result? 42% said never or almost never, 32% said sometimes, and 26% said fairly often or very often. Only 3% said always. Once we enter the workplace, we all dogpile onto existing structures and foundations instead of looking around at our new environment and thinking about what we could do to strengthen them.
Interestingly, foundations were built for substitutional thinking (different versions of existing templates, approaches and thinking), not evolutionary thinking (strategies for real change where leaders, employees and the organization evolves). People are ingrained into thinking that they should stick with the status quo and preserve the existing state of affairs. They focus more about what is comfortable and thinking inside the existing box. Here are some steps we have found that can help an organization break the dogpiling of their employees and create a culture of embracing and welcoming change.
1. Seek Feedback and Employee Engagement
With COVID changing the way a lot of people work, it is a great time to seek feedback to show employees their opinions and comfort are your priority. Asking for feedback is also a way of showing transparency in the company, which is crucial to maintaining a strong workplace. Don’t just approach change from a management perspective, but from the employee’s perspective. When it comes to employee concerns, smart leaders talk less and listen more. Using this step also helps to create a culture of change as it provides a level of anonymity, sometimes employees are nervous to come forward because they don’t know how leaders will take their feedback, by creating an anonymous survey this can be eliminated.
Another way to encourage employee engagement is to adapt to changes that result in more job satisfaction. It will be interesting to see post COVID if more companies make the move to permanent remote work, like Twitter, or become more lenient to telecommuting. Asking each employee their preference—maybe some will opt to work remotely, but others would rather work from the office, is another way to help create a more inclusive, valued, and welcoming culture who may be more open to change.
2. Establish Strong Communication
To create an innovative culture where there are rapid changes, change will likely go over better with ongoing communication between the leadership and the employees. Making employees aware of what the company is working on makes employees feel less like these changes are happening “to” them instead of “with” them. Use company meetings, newsletters and emails to create awareness of the changes ahead. Finding more ways to include employees in the change, such as surveys like we already mentioned, will also help to get them onboard quicker and more accepting to the change taking place.
3. Reassure During Uncertainty
With the global landscape being so uncertain right now this tip may be relevant now more than ever. Change goes hand in hand with uncertainty. Companies often fail at empathizing with employees when change occurs. So, it is important that decision makers develop strategies to address the uncertainty those changes create in an employee. Managers should set meetings with their direct reports or have casual conversations ahead of time to make sure concerns are addressed and handled gradually as the changes are implemented. If dealt with proactively, the changes are more easily adopted; when employees know that they are being considered, the gap that change brings can be less dramatic.
4. Anticipate Burn Out
Change can require employees to work hard to get new systems and procedures in place, and even the best employees can’t sprint indefinitely. Plan for your team to take necessary and required breaks to be human. Encourage them to take some time off, relax, and recover. Having time to decompress is vital to the execution of sustained change. Try building in some fun breaks each day for five minutes or once a week for an hour to allow people to connect and build stronger relationships with the people they work with.
5. Remember One Size Does Not Fit All
A basic approach to breaking the news of the change is to address all employee reactions with the same level of concern. As mentioned earlier, some employees will respond well to change, while others will require a slower transitional period.
Regardless of the size or age of the company, all employees should understand the need for change to remain competitive in the ever-changing technological and business world.
Companies must establish a workplace culture that accepts and embraces change if they want to survive. If we all think the same way then the world is going to be one boring place. It is fun to reminisce on the times you spend dogpiling with your friends on the schoolyard but it is quite hazardous to work from a mindset of the dogpile. Leaders should train their employees to be comfortable with and accept change. By encouraging employees to challenge the status quo you remove the risk of becoming stagnate and ensure that you are constantly evolving, creating a better workplace than the one you entered. Making change in the workplace is hard, but necessary for survival.