“What will social distancing look like for us?” “Who have you consulted with?” “How will our performance goals be adjusted?” “What if I don't have access to childcare?” “What precautions have been put in place to make sure it's safe to return to work?”
These are just some of the questions leaders need to be prepared for as they consider how they are going to re-open their businesses. The biggest mistake leaders can make is to assume that everyone in the organization is as far along the change process as the leaders are. It’s easy to forget that while the senior leadership team has been reviewing the data and having planning meetings, the same isn’t true for rank and file employees.
In our Leading People Through Change® program we teach leaders that people have five predictable stages of concern—and corresponding questions—when evaluating a change: information concerns, personal concerns, and implementation concerns followed by impact concerns and refinement concerns.
One of the worst things a leader can do is initiate a change without first addressing people’s concerns. Pushing ahead for the sake of expediency causes people to think “My manager hasn’t thought about me at all in this. They haven't thought about how this is going to impact me.” On the other hand, when leaders talk about those concerns, people think “My manager cares about my concerns—and about me.”
Leaders have a tendency to want to move fast during change, often by using a top-down approach. While they can make decisions quickly using that approach, it's likely to slow down or possibly derail implementation of the change because they won’t have the commitment level from people in the company. At best, they’ll have compliance, which won’t be enough in the long term. But if leaders slow down a little bit on the front end by involving more people, giving them a voice in the process, and getting dialogue going, the change implementation will move faster and results will come sooner.
When the senior leadership team begins asking people to come back to work, it’s important to allow time to address people’s first three stages of concern. These are the stages that leaders often bypass or don't spend much time on, mainly because they personally have already worked through them over many weeks of discussions.
One of the questions we often get from leaders who are considering using a high involvement strategy is how to make the needed decisions to keep moving forward.
We explain that even though everyone needs to be involved in the process, that doesn’t mean everyone's going to have a vote. In our Leading People Through Change® training program, we discuss the difference between having a voice and having a vote. While few organizations would allow employees a vote in the change process, all organizations have an opportunity to give people a voice. And that voice goes a long way in lowering people's resistance to the change. Just knowing that the leaders initiating the change are taking input from a lot of different sources and different people goes a long way. People see it as more of a smart process and are better able to understand the rationale for the decisions being made.”
Change is a process done best with people, not to people. Change leadership teams that encourage open and honest communication have far better results than those that don't.
As people return to work, there'll be many questions and concerns about the new normal. It will be critical for leaders to be prepared to address those concerns and lead their organizations forward.