How to motivate others to embrace change
Over the last five years, nearly every single Australian workplace has experienced change at some level. Whether that’s a merger, new CEO or executive team, different business model, updated premises or even redundancies.
Yet, according to a 2014 Towers Watson study, Australian employees are tired of change and want clear direction and leadership from their managers. The fallout has been a lack of trust in leadership.
Blame it on our convict past or a lack of employee resilience, we need strong leaders who tell the truth and can navigate employees successfully towards a new vision.
Why increasing trust is critical to change
Our ability to commit to change is based on our belief that we can trust the leader or organisation to do the right thing by us and not make us vulnerable to loss in an uncertain situation.
Trust bears a close, inverse relationship with risk. The higher the stakes, the less likely people will trust the situation. Without trust, social groups cannot function properly and begin to break down.
Despite Australian employees experiencing change fatigue, the reality is that it is only set to accelerate.
So how do you create trust in environments where external and internal change, risk and uncertainty exist? Through communication.
Five steps to creating high trust communication
Trust is enabled through conversations. Typically, when trust breaks down it is because management has not comprehensively explained why change is necessary.
The result is a huge trust gap that reduces productivity and morale. A study by Geckoboard found that when people hear nothing, more than half “resort to doing their own detective work” to find out what’s going on.
“Our ability to commit to change is based on our belief that we can trust the leader or organisation to do the right thing by us and not make us vulnerable to loss in an uncertain situation.
Few companies strategically approach how to build trust through communication. Yet, it dramatically reduces employee fear and improves confidence, commitment and execution.
Here are five steps for leaders to build trust during times of uncertainty:
1. Explain why we need to change
Start by describing the current state, and how and why it isn’t working. This provides people with the emotional connection to the information they need. This is important because the part of the brain that manages trust can’t understand language, only emotions.
Describing the rationale behind a decision also increases trust, as people will accept it, even if they disagree, as long as the process appears rigorous and fair.
2. Focus on the company purpose and values
We are more likely to trust others who are like ourselves. A clear sense of purpose, values and goals connects everyone together through being able to collectively see the meaning of their work.
Promoting group self-interest also reduces any misperceptions of suspicious intent by leaders.
3. How you will be affected/risks involved
Meet people where they are at and openly discuss any fears or reservations that are left unsaid in their head. This means discussing how the change will affect people and confessing that it may mean working longer hours or throwing away previous work.
At the same time, it’s important that employees’ self-interest is linked with the company purpose and ‘what’s in it for them’ is explained, such as how much they will learn or improve their career opportunities.
Addressing potential risks helps the risk-adverse to understand the issue at hand. People are more likely to accept risk, if they understand it.
4. Reset the destination
Once everyone understands why the change was necessary, then it’s time to describe the new vision. Research studies have found that leaders who communicate using image-based words are more likely to succeed with strategy execution than those using abstract words or numeric goals.
Talking about the destination (what it will look like, such as the new customer user experience) gets people thinking in terms of outcomes, rather than activities. This helps reset our inherent bias towards wanting to stick with past efforts.
5. Provide clear expectations
Lay out clear goals and guidelines, so everyone knows what their part is in the transition. When trust is lost, it’s often because clear expectations were not initially specified.
Admit that you don’t know how it will go or how to even do things, but you believe everyone will be able to work it out if they work as a team. Having belief that people can successfully complete the new initiative is critical to building trust.
Underpinning all of the communication is a leader who openly tells it like it is and who seeks honest feedback and checks that everyone understands the new expectations. Essentially, a high-trust leader is approachable enough for employees to discuss any work situation and is always comfortable addressing the tough conversations.
The result is employees who commit to actions, make faster decisions and who have the confidence to buy into a big vision to get an innovative project off the ground. In other words, employees who embrace change.
Marie-Claire Ross is chief corporate catalyst at Corporate Culture Creator. She is a workplace sociologist, author and consultant focused on helping leaders create high trust work environments.