Whether you’re looking to implement a new ERP solution or you’re installing new machinery throughout your factory, it can be difficult to get the workforce on-board with the changes. And let’s face it, we need to be able to adapt in order to keep up with the changing landscape that we’re competing in so we don’t get left behind.
So, how should you approach imminent changes with your workforce?
Be open from an early stage
When change is on the horizon and your workforce isn’t properly informed, rumours can spread at pace on the shop floor about the state of the company’s affairs and job security. It’s often enough disruption for previously content employees, to start researching job openings elsewhere and with skills shortage at its current level in the UK and the cost of recruitment, you don’t want to lose good people. If you’ve identified a need for change within the business and you’re planning on embarking on a project, it’s best to engage with your staff as early on as possible to outline why you’re considering change and why the change is necessary. Addressing it with your workforce will not eradicate gossip completely but it will help stop the rumour mill in its tracks. Be prepared to be open and honest with your staff. As the saying goes, “sh*t rolls down hill” and so do bad attitudes and negativity. You will need to secure full backing from your management team so they’re behind the changes and will support the board fully with the project.
Call a meeting
Call a meeting with the affected employees, preferably at the start of the week. Holding the meeting at the start of the week as opposed to a Friday gives the workforce ample opportunity to air any immediate concerns as you don’t want staff taking their worries home with them on Friday afternoon to fester over the weekend. The message should be delivered by a Director or Senior Manager of the business – depending on the size of your business, it might be feasible to host a number of smaller meetings, especially if your workforce is shift based. Communicate your current position and why the changes need to take place and why it benefits everyone.
Be prepared to combat resistance
It’s human nature to resist change if we don’t feel it is in our best interest to accept it. WIIFM (What’s In It for me) is a common sentiment among us all, especially if we work in an environment where “we’ve always done it that way” is a frequent saying, so you will need to be clear on why the changes will benefit the workforce. This will take some preparation in advance to ensure you’re well equipped. Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric has a great short video that you might find interesting. His sentiment is that as a leader, you need to be the Chief Meaning Officer. You’re the person that tells everyone where you’re going and why you want to get there, what’s in it for them and why they should want to change with you.
- Listen to their concerns and address them openly
- Acknowledge their concerns and provide a positive but honest response
- Ensure your workforce feels secure and that they understand the benefits that change will bring, not only to them, but to the wider team
Whilst you want to get buy-in from the staff, negativity and gossip is toxic so make it clear that change will be happening, and that non-compliance will not be tolerated. Everyone needs to be heading towards the same combined goal.
Allow input from the workforce
Most businesses don’t operate a democracy, but employees typically respond better when they feel that their opinion and input is valued. From the shop floor to your sales and customer service team, listen to those at the coalface and give them an opportunity to voice their concerns. You never know, that machine operator may just highlight a point that was overlooked but may prove to be very valid when deciding your future landscape. It’s also great opportunity to educate the workforce on the bigger picture and how change (or lack of) is likely to impact the different departments within the business.
Schedule follow-ups and appoint key representatives
Now you’ve listened to your workforce, you have the task to keep the engagement going and follow up on the initial discussion. This can often prove to be the most challenging part for organisations, but it’s often the most important in order for staff to feel that you have actually listened to what they had to say. Depending on the size of your business, it may be useful to appoint a representative from each department or site, someone that can confidently communicate updates to the rest of the team and can feedback any additional concerns or questions from the different departments or sites. Schedule update meetings, ideally in advance, so staff can be kept informed every step of the way.
Keep your door open
Even if you follow the above steps and manage to keep your staff well informed, there may be members of the workforce that need some extra reassurance or need a more intimate forum to air their concerns or ask questions on how the changes might affect them. It’s important to try and accommodate this as best as possible and allow people to approach you directly – have an open door policy.