During times of transition and change, basic trust in the organization and its leaders will be challenged by all stakeholders. Some of these challenges will be apparent and predictable. We expect the rumors and the questions. We know no one likes change. Change, because it replaces predictability with the element of the unknown, causes anxiety and creates questions rather than answering them. Even if stakeholders knew change was needed and perception of the organization isn’t what it should be, change needs to be managed wisely and with great care. Other responses will not be as predictable and may seem to come from out of nowhere. Those are the responses that need to be managed because it isn’t ever easy to manage what isn’t vocalized.
Perception management of change is extremely important because it will maintain the level of trust that was previously established. Or, if the change is a result of needing to increase trust levels, handled wisely, the desired outcome can be reached with positive impacts for the viability of the organization.
In a climate of negativity, what is considered a positive change by the new guard may not be perceived that way by the stakeholders. A favorite leader of mine was moved to an office where the culture was full of distrust and suspicion. This leader believed that transparency and consensus decision-making was always necessary to have the level of trust with internal and external stakeholders needed to establish a culture of success. The first few weeks on the job he opened the curtains to his office. He would grab a cup of coffee and walk around speaking with every employee first thing in the morning. He knew that showing he was truly interested in them was the beginning of establishing trust. One day he asked his assistant how she thought things were going. She told him that they weren’t going so well. He was right to try to establish the relationship with the employees but when he was doing it first thing in the morning they perceived he was trying to figure out who was getting to work late. And, with his curtains open, they felt they were vulnerable because he could see everything going on. That was not his intent
at all! However, their perception based on their previous experiences caused more anxiety rather than alleviating it. At that point, this leader changed the time of day he would walk around the office to give his employees time to get settled. Perceptions changed and the culture quickly improved.
Change can be positive! Change is necessary! Change needs to be led! Everyone needs to be involved! Change is good!!! No, those are not myths, they can be reality if you keep in mind several factors that can affect change.
- No news is NOT good news…Be as transparent as possible with all stakeholders. When making decisions, don’t keep those decisions behind closed doors. Bring in the stakeholders in a timely manner and give them the opportunity, when possible, to be part of the change. No one likes change thrust upon them.
- Buy-in does NOT work….Buy-in is not ownership. Organizations need stakeholders to own the changes in their jobs and the way the organization works. Buy-in is superficial. Bringing stakeholders in when all the decisions have already been made sends the wrong message. You may have them nodding their heads during the meeting in your office but the real meeting takes place later at the water cooler. Buy-in may seem to work for the short-term but it doesn’t guarantee that your employees will follow through with supporting future decisions nor does it guarantee they are truly in agreement with the change. Giving them the opportunity to be part of the conversations gives them the opportunity to manage the change where it affects them most. If your goal is buy-in, consider the fact you may be adding to the stress of change and creating stronger resistance rather than alleviating it.
- Inclusion NOT exclusion…Inclusion promotes ownership. There are times that change is required but even within that requirement look for ways to include your stakeholders in the decisions. Ask yourself three questions and make sure you follow-through on the answers.
- Who is directly affected by the specific change and needs to be included in the decision- making process?
- Who outside of the first group has information that would benefit the discussion and advance the change?
- Finally, who else needs to know once the decision has been made?
- Do NOT dictate change…The leadership of an organization should not dictate change to thestakeholders; they need to part of the change. Successful change management always is led by example and inclusion. Include yourself in the change. If stakeholders have the perception that they are the only ones who have to change the culture quickly deteriorates to an “us versus them” mentality. Questions aren’t answered, they multiply. When leadership is not actively involved in the change, trust is negatively affected and, in the worst case, may never be regained.
- Change is NOT about you…When employees hear about change they aren’t thinking of the organization or the leadership or the long-term vision. They are thinking about how the change will affect them personally. Timing is everything! Anxiety will be minimalized if the employee is not surprised by the change. Don’t expect stakeholders to know what is happening or to deduce what is happening. During the change, stakeholders need extra attention when the change is directly affecting their jobs or they perceive that it will. Be proactive to include them as much as possible. Ask questions and try to perceive how the change will affect them. Don’t dismiss their questions or their fears but be available for any and all questions. Their questions are important
to them even if they seem minor to you. And, don’t talk about the change to others if you aren’t including in the conversation the stakeholders that are directly affected. Remember…by the time the employee first hears about the change, it is old news to those who are managing it.
Perception management is at the heart of change. Change will happen. It must happen if an organization is to remain viable. The viability of an organization depends on the perception management during change. How it happens is up to you. Know your stakeholders, know their needs, and be ready to lead by example.