Fear Of Change

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Fear of what’s new or different can stifle your business.

Change does not come easily for most employees. In fact, it often threatens them, especially when faced with learning a new routine or process. That’s because humans are creatures of habit. And habits, whether good or bad, are hard to break. Even when change is perceived as necessary and good for the company, adapting and adjusting to something new and different is tough. If business owners and managers acknowledge the pervasive anxiety that surrounds change, they can develop non-threatening methods to introduce new policies, procedures and desired behavior. The degree to which they accomplish this will be reflected by employee buy-in, lasting change and a healthier organization.

Where is change needed?

In many companies, two key areas often require change.

The first is productivity. When productivity is low, profits drop; when productivity increases, profits generally improve as well. In addition to increased profits, enhanced productivity has another positive effect on companies. It generates self-satisfaction for owners and employees, which in turn produces a competitive advantage—a necessity in today’s marketplace.

To increase productivity, it is important to change how employees work. This might not be as simple as it sounds, but it can be accomplished. Here’s one example: An HVAC contractor examined the time wasted in his company and decided to change the routines and habits of the installers. A typical morning routine started with the workers arriving at the shop to get their paperwork and load all the materials onto the truck.

Of course, that wasn’t all the employees did. They sat around drinking coffee and chatting with others before leaving for the job site. The company instituted a dramatic change by restricting installers from coming to the shop. At first, employees resisted the change and complained.

They liked coming in and shooting the breeze before heading out to the job site. But this was an obvious time-waster. Although the employees grumbled about the change in the beginning, resistance quickly ceased. Secondly, the company changed its lunch break procedures. Previously, employees were given a 30-minute lunch break, where many left the job site to buy food and drinks. Typically, they usually were gone for longer than 30 minutes. To break the cycle, the owner equipped every truck with a state-of-the-art microwave oven to encourage employees to bring their lunch to work. Not only did productivity increase, but the change in behavior saved employees money. In a few short weeks, the employees changed their habits. New ways became routine, and everyone benefited.

Better quality control is the second major area that can have a dramatic impact on the growth and performance of a company. When employees know their work is being checked by management, they make every effort to do a better job. As a result, improved performance becomes a habit, and change becomes the norm. Further, when firms implement quality control policies and procedures, they are likely to generate more repeat business. That’s because quality work decreases rework and call backs, resulting in greater customer satisfaction. Happy customers not only return for additional work, but they also initiate more referrals.

Commitment to change

Early signs of change are not enough to produce permanent results unless employees are truly committed to change. If they aren’t, many of the undesirable habits will return. This is because there are some people who believe that change is OK for everyone else but not for them. The key is to convince all staff that change initiatives are the right thing for the company and its employees.

One way to achieve this is to make sure senior management initiates and incorporates the change from the top down. This is based on the time-tested principle: lead by example. Otherwise, if employees sense that the requested change is an edict aimed just at them and will not be followed by owners and top executives, they will resist following the new directives. A second reason why change has to come from the top has to do with the typical mindset of employees. The average employee may not understand—or care—that owners have all the risk and that when bad habits are the precedent, the owner stands to lose everything. All employees see is that they are the ones doing all the work, and the owners are making all the money. This perception creates resentment unless management creates an environment where everyone works together as a team for the good of all.

When change becomes the norm

How can management see that change has taken hold? The answer is simple. When employees are not talking about the change anymore, aren’t complaining to others about the change and are not bragging about improved performance, it’s a good indication that change has become the cultural norm. In other words, employees are just performing the change. A second indicator that change is permanent is when employees repeat the change without being prompted. This behavior means that the new habits are ingrained and will likely continue.

In this environment, recognition is a key component in sustaining change. Everyone likes a pat on the back or other signs of appreciation and/or acknowledgment of a job well done. There are many ways to accomplish this. For example, when the pizza truck rolls by the in afternoon, management can stop work, tell employees that they have done a great job and throw an impromptu pizza party.

Other methods include gift certificates, time off, tickets to sporting events, concerts or the theater. In addition, it’s important to provide very direct and public recognition. By applauding personnel for their accomplishments, management instills employees with the motivation, desire and confidence to continue the desired change. If there are still resistant employees in this environment, peer pressure will generally persuade them to jump on board.

Smart choices

There are two business notions that are no longer true. The first is the false belief that one individual is so valuable to the company that he or she is irreplaceable. Everyone is replaceable, especially those resistant to change. This includes business owners, too. For example, in a multiple-owner business, the first owner (or partner) may work very hard at improving the business, but the second doesn’t possess the same work ethic. The second person is entitled to dividends from company profits but not necessarily entitled to a “job.” Being a shareholder does not and should not guarantee employment. To that end, it is not uncommon to recommend and facilitate the replacement of the under-performing or nonconforming owner/partner.

The second notion is, “We’ve always done it this way, and there is no reason to change.” Change will happen with or without any one employee or owner. Nothing is static, and change occurs constantly. Either the company initiates change and is on the leading edge or is likely to be run over by it. When companies recognize which position is the smarter choice and take the steps to proactively implement changes within their organization, success is likely to follow.

About Patrick A. Genovese 2 Articles
Patrick A. Genovese is a senior project manager. With an background in marketing and business management, Patrick was a small business owner for 40 years.

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